Smokers Get Update on 660 Lawsuits; Two Jacksonville Law Firms Take on Suits from a Failed Class Action

Article excerpt

Byline: JESSIE-LYNNE KERR

About 150 people who suffer from tobacco-related illnesses - some riding in wheelchairs, some walking with the assistance of canes and others pulling oxygen canisters behind them - gathered at the downtown Jacksonville Public Library auditorium Wednesday evening to hear from attorneys about the status of their lawsuits against tobacco companies.

Most of the plaintiffs, who include relatives of those already dead from various diseases believed to be caused by their cigarette smoking, were part of the class-action suit that resulted in the largest damage award in U.S. history - $145 billion - that was struck down last year by the Florida Supreme Court.

The court ruled that not only was the verdict excessive but that the lawsuits must be decided on a case-by-case basis.

So two Jacksonville law firms, Wilner and Block and Farah and Farah, are working together on the smokers' behalf and three weeks ago filed 660 individual lawsuits in U.S. District Court in Jacksonville.

"We have teamed up to bring you some justice," said Norwood "Woody" Wilner, who gained fame in 1996 with his $750,000 jury award in Jacksonville against a tobacco company on behalf of ex-smoker Grady Carter.

It was the first time a tobacco company had to pay damages.

Wilner said he hopes the court will assign the suits to one of the four federal judges in Jacksonville and that the judge will agree to let the cases be tried 25 cases at a time to expedite the litigation. …

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