Tens of thousands of ill Florida smokers and families of those who died will share in a $600 million fund created by major tobacco companies as part of a 14-year-old lawsuit against cigarette manufacturers. The Florida Supreme Court in 2006 threw out a massive $145 billion damage award in the case, but the tobacco companies had previously set up the fund to be paid out even if the appeal failed. Recently, a Miami judge ordered the money divided equally among all Florida smokers who became ill before November 21, 1996. The total number of people who could qualify for payment is estimated at between 10,000 and 50,000.

There is a registration deadline of June 16 for the Engle Trust Fund, named for Miami Beach pediatrician Howard Engle who led the original group that filed the lawsuit in 1994. Applications can be mailed or filed via the Internet and are available at http://www.engletrustfund.com. People who seek damages must submit proof of illnesses such as cancer, emphysema and heart disease that are linked to cigarette smoking. Some of the people involved in the case from the beginning are unhappy that Miller decided to distribute the money equally rather than focusing on the original class.

When it tossed out the original damage award, the state Supreme Court upheld a jury’s findings that the tobacco companies sold dangerous products and hid the dangers of smoking. The 2006 decision authorized individual smokers to sue the companies on that basis, and more than 7,000 cases were filed by a January deadline. Tobacco company officials said they would vigorously defend themselves against the individual lawsuits. They also questioned whether people would be able to prove that misleading statements in cigarette advertising were a key factor in their decisions to smoke.

The defendant companies were Philip Morris USA (a subsidiary of Altria Group Inc.); R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (a unit of Reynolds American Inc.); Brown & Williamson (now part of Reynolds American); Lorillard Tobacco (a Loews Corp. subsidiary); and the Liggett Group (part of Liggett Vector Brands Inc.) Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt filed the original lawsuit and did a tremendous job. They fought the good fight – never gave up – and should be commended by all of us for standing up for victims of the tobacco industry.

Source: Associated Press

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