If you’ve been keeping up with the news on smoking lawsuits, you’ll know that Florida is the hotbed for action right now. Ever since the Florida Supreme Court threw out a $145 billion judgement against Philip Morris et al in 2006, the road has been opened up for smokers to file individual lawsuits against the tobacco company.
And so they have. But there’s a twist here.
Just yesterday, we learned that ex-smoker Jerome Cohen dropped his lawsuit against Philip Morris. Any time someone—a former smoker—drops their lawsuit against a tobacco company you begin to wonder why. Well, in this instance, Cohen’s lawyer, Philip Gerson, was quoted in the Associated Press as saying that Cohen’s health was the issue—he has lung cancer.
But other reports bring up another little-known—or little publicized—issue: in Florida, if a plaintiff refuses a settlement offer, continues on with their case and loses—or, according to smokersinfo.net, wins a judgement of at least 25 percent less than the defendant’s original offer, the defendant may seek attorney fees and costs from the plaintiff.
And that can be mucho dinero. Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, said in a statement earlier in the week that two other Florida smokers recently had to cough up $100,000 and $30,000 respectively—to Philip Morris—upon losing their cases.
Hard to imagine, but true. And that may well give pause to some indivduals who might otherwise file a lawsuit against Philip Morris.
I tend to look at the consequences of smoking as a mixed responsibility thing—that is, if you started smoking prior to when there was mass awareness of the dangers of smoking, shame on big tobacco; if you started smoking well after word was out that yes, smoking is not good, then shame on you. Yes, cigarettes are marketed. Yes, they’re addictive. But go talk to someone who’s facing liver failure after years of belting back a pint of Jack Daniels each day and see if they’re thinking of filing suit against Brown-Forman.
It’s the same type of thing I posted about with Tylenol and acetaminophen—how many warnings need to be printed on the bottle, shrink wrap, box, label, advertisements, whatever to get the message out and for folks to take some iota of responsibility? If a company, like Bayer with Yasmin, doesn’t quite put everything on the table regarding the risks of using their product, call them on the carpet by all means; but let’s not entirely wash our hands of personal responsibility.
Having said that, to have a little “procedural rule” in place that makes it possible for a plaintiff to have to pay exorbitant legal costs should they lose their claim against a major corporation inherently and effectively handcuffs the process. Undoubtedly, there are cases out there in which, after much consideration and soul-searching, the plaintiffs chose to not pursue litigation against Philip Morris—or at the very least they accepted the initial settlement offer. Who wants to risk more when they’ve already risked their health?
And so now what does Jerome Cohen do? Well, he in fact took a $1,000 settlement from Philip Morris. Yeah, that’ll make up for things.