Thousands of tobacco lawsuits in the pipeline

Jeffrey Schweers, Democrat staff writer

Wade Halvorson died in 2008 at the age of 68 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at Westminster Oaks. But his lawsuit against Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and Liggett lives on through his widow, Sandra.

The lawsuit she filed in Leon County Circuit Court is among at least a dozen filed by local residents, and one of thousands statewide that have resulted in judgments totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. These plaintiffs are all remnants of a class action suit collectively known as “Engle progeny.”

Many of those plaintiffs have died waiting for the cigarette manufacturers to pay up, thanks to an obscure statute exclusive to tobacco companies that says they don’t have to put up a bond or pay out until every last appeal has been exhausted.

“They can draw it out for years and years,” said John S. Mills, a Tallahassee attorney who represents plaintiffs when the tobacco companies appeal trial court verdicts. “There is a financial incentive to string it out, to file extensions.”

Twin bills filed by Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota and Rep. Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills, for the upcoming legislative session would change that by repealing the statute that gives tobacco companies this exclusive advantage.