Tobacco companies object to case filing

Nov. 9, 2010 at 1:28 PM

JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Lawyers for U.S. tobacco companies say they object to a plan by attorneys for 499 Florida smokers suing the companies to dismiss their cases in federal court.

Corporate defense lawyers for R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris USA and Lorillard say the plaintiffs' lawyers' proposal to pursue their cases solely in state court in Duval County is "blatant forum shopping," The (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union reported Monday.

But a lawyer who represents thousands of smokers and ex-smokers suing the companies said the move is designed to get the cases to trial before his clients die off.

"This is just a matter of how many courtrooms we can get," Woody Wilner said. "We want these people who are dying regularly to have trial dates."

Currently, there are about 3,800 tobacco cases pending in Jacksonville's federal court.

There are far more civil trial judges in state court than in federal court, Wilner said.

The tobacco companies have accused Wilner and other plaintiffs' attorneys of trying an end run around a federal appellate ruling that broke up a class action suit by smokers against the companies into individual claims, a decision the tobacco lawyers say makes the smokers' cases more difficult.

"It is nothing more than an unseemly effort to escape the consequences of the court of appeals' decision," a motion filed by the tobacco companies says.

Wilner denies that, saying it's about tobacco companies trying to delay.

"It's been their strategy for about 50 years. I don't think there's any change," he said.

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