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Florida’s Supreme Court gave ailing smokers a boost to file individual lawsuits against the tobacco industry, though it upheld an earlier decision to throw out a $145 billion award. That is the gist of yesterday’s Supreme Court opinion.

State court aids ill smokers

The Florida Supreme Court Thursday snuffed out the tobacco industry’s strategy to slow down thousands of ailing state smokers in pursuing individual lawsuits against the country’s major cigarette makers.

The high court, in a 4-2 vote, rejected a request by Philip Morris USA and other tobacco corporations to throw out key legal findings by a Miami-Dade jury in a landmark class-action case.

Those findings on the health hazards of smoking, the addictive nature of nicotine and the industry’s deceptive marketing practices will provide an edge for sick smokers who were part of the lawsuit a decade ago to move ahead with individual claims.

In July, the state Supreme Court had delivered a huge blow to the Florida class of smokers by overturning a $145 billion punitive judgment awarded by a Miami-Dade Circuit Court jury. The six justices who had heard the appeal — a seventh dropped out because of a conflict of interest — concluded that the jury’s punitive damage award in 2000 was ”excessive as a matter of law,” because it was unreasonably high.

The justices also decertified the class filed on behalf of approximately 700,000 smokers. The justices found that each ailing smoker must prove individually that cigarettes caused illnesses ranging from cancer to emphysema. On Thursday, the justices redelivered those twin-barreled blows — but they left almost entirely intact critical legal findings by the Miami-Dade jury in the high-stakes case.

It remains critical for all Florida smokers or the families of deceased smokers who believe cigarette smoking caused serious physical harm or death to immediately contact a law firm pursuing individual claims against the tobacco companies. The Statute of Limitations will bar the individual claims unless they are filed by a date in 2007.

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