|Jump to full article: Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch, 2010-07-23|
Author: DAVID RESS AND JOHN REID BLACKWELL * TIMES-DISPATCH STAFF WRITERS
"On balance, it's less helpful to the plaintiffs," said University of Richmond law professor Carl W. Tobias.
The key issue that the ruling addressed was what a Florida Supreme Court ruling in 2006 meant when it quashed a $145 billion class action lawsuit against the tobacco industry in the so-called Engle case. . . .
The smokers and families argued the findings simply should be accepted as applying to their cases, as is the practice in similar cases in the Florida state courts.
"We leave it to the district court to . . . decide in the first instance precisely what facts are established when preclusive effect is given to the approved findings," the appeals court ruled.
It said the lower courts decide the exact scope of the factual issues in the findings -- whether, for instance, a finding that the companies made defective and dangerous products over several years meant all cigarettes are defective or, if not, whether a specific smoker's brand was defective.
Until the lower courts decide that, it is too early to say whether the findings prove any smoker's or family's claim, the appeals court said.
This finding overturns a lower court ruling that the findings cannot be used to preclude the smokers' and families' need to establish any element of their claims.
The issue had put federal cases by former class action participants on ice. . . .
Edward L. Sweda, senior attorney for the Tobacco Control Resource Center at Northeastern University in Boston, described yesterday's ruling as favorable for plaintiffs.
"It does provide a green light to go forward for the plaintiffs in federal court," he said. "They have the opportunity to show that the jury's findings [in the class action case] can be and should be applied to their own cases in federal court. The plaintiffs are in much better position than they were if the circuit court had upheld the order from the district court."
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