A verdict by a federal circuit court judge may provide Florida smokers with a breath of fresh air, but the $145 billion verdict against Big Tobacco is still an unreasonable amount to pay.
Judge Robert Kaye said the award did not violate Florida law that prevents a punitive verdict from bankrupting a defendant. The tobacco companies argued, however, that they could only afford $150 million to $375 million, or they risk being put out of business if the award was much higher. The industry must post a $100 million dollar bond to appeal, which attorneys say they will do immediately.
The decision to punish the tobacco industry was just, since, according to the American Lung Association, 430,000 people die each year in the United States because of cigarette smoking. It is time for Big Tobacco to pay its dues. However, the court decision may have been harmful to American smokers seeking punitive damages outside of Florida if the companies go bankrupt.
While Florida smokers deserve to receive punitive damages, the tobacco industry should not be punished to the extent of forcing it into bankruptcy. As of 1998, tobacco companies already are required to pay each state $10 billion a year.
Although the product produced by the tobacco companies is harmful to peoples health, they still have a legal right to operate, as long as they follow regulations. If enforced, this verdict would unfairly put the companies out of business.
Also, if the cigarette companies are forced to close, smokers would have to buy imported cigarettes. These cigarettes are not made under the strict regulations American cigarettes are made under, and may be a more harmful product.
The award should have been closer to what the tobacco industry suggested it would be able to pay smokers. With such a decision, Big Tobacco may only be able to afford satisfying Florida smokers. Other states, which now see the tobacco industry as fair game, may find themselves filing suits against an industry unable to settle such legal actions.
Florida smokers do not deserve all of the tobacco industrys money. Already, a six-member jury set a U.S. record by awarding $12.7 million in punitive damages to three sick Florida smokers, who represented in July between 300,000 to 700,000 sick Florida smokers or their families.
If the punitive damages awarded were less, states would not find themselves limited when seeking punitive damages.
Beside the hefty verdict, tobacco companies already have been forced to remove their logos from clothing, eliminate outdoor advertising, stop using cartoon characters to endorse tobacco products and air public service announcements against smoking.
Regardless of the size of the award, Florida smokers do deserve some amount of punitive damages from tobacco companies. That amount should have been less than what the recent verdict dictates. A smaller award would allow other states to receive money from tobacco litigation and keep the tobacco industry from going bankrupt.