Tampa lawsuit targets big tobacco again

By NICOLE HUTCHESON, Times Staff Writer
Published October 31, 2007

Across the state, hundreds of people are coming forward to take on Big Tobacco again. A wrongful-death lawsuit filed Tuesday in Tampa against Philip Morris and seven other major tobacco manufacturers has now been added to the mix.

The plaintiffs are survivors of 11 people who died of smoking-related illnesses between 1992 and 2004, according to the lawsuit, filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court.

The suit seeks damages for financial and emotional stress caused to survivors of Juan Ojeda, Bobby DeLuca, Dottie Higgins, Georgina Carranza, Malcolm Chancey, Howard Haack, Addie Branton, Brigitte Altobelli, Betty Sharp, Raymond Wyerick and Jean Silver.

The local case comes one year after the decision by the Florida Supreme Court in a class-action suit known as the Engle case. In that case, the court threw out a $145-billion jury award against the tobacco industry and required that any future suits against the industry be filed individually.

The courts set a Jan. 11, 2008, deadline.

On the surface, the decision appeared to be a coup for Big Tobacco. But the high court also ruled that when future suits against tobacco companies come forward, key points the plaintiffs would not have to prove include the assertions that cigarettes cause diseases and the industry was negligent in marketing.