Last week I was clowning around with one of the five-year-olds my kids baby-sit. He had a stuffed toy he took everywhere, and I asked him how much he'd sell it for. "A billion, zillon dollars," he said enthusiastically. I patted him on the head and said "Good boy. You can grow up to be a juror in Florida."
Watching the Florida's tobacco case has been like watching a Kevin Costner film. It's both amusing and appalling that anyone would spend so much money on something so ridiculous, so unbelievably bad, and expect to turn a profit when it was all over. But just when you think jurors can't get any stupider, a jury comes along that brings dumb to a whole new level. They believed a 44 year old nurse who claimed she had no idea tobacco was harmful! (It took the lawyers three months to find six people this gullible.) During the trial the courthouse hired an extra custodian to mop up the drool in the jury box.
The gist of the case was that smokers didn't know that smoking was harmful, because the tobacco companies had lied to them. Never mind that smoking has always been considered dangerous; health warnings about it appeared as soon as it became popular, four hundred years ago. Forget that cigarettes were called coffin nails in the eighteen hundreds. Ignore the fact that tobacco companies stopped making health-related claims about smoking in the fifties, when the first scientific evidence of the risk came to light. Pretend that the warnings on every single pack sold in America since the early sixties were invisible. Instead, believe a nurse who says, "I had no idea they were dangerous. Honest!"
Of course this will be overturned on appeal. The most likely reason will be misclassification of the "class" in this class action. There is simply too much difference in the way people smoke and the effect it has on them for every smoker in Florida to be considered a class. It could also be overturned for the judge's misconduct, not only in the way he conducted the trial, but also in allowing the front rows of the spectator's section to be filled with people carrying oxygen tanks and voice boxes. Unfortunately it won't be overturned for the real reason, anencephalic jurors.
The primary lawyers in this case, Stanley and Susan Rosenblat, have been hailed as heroes by the anti-smoking movement. They presided over a previous case where flight attendants claimed they were harmed by the second hand smoke in airplanes. The result – 300 million dollars for charity, 46 million dollars for the Rosenblats, and exactly $0.00 for each of the flight attendants. Some heroes.
If you don't smoke, you may think this has no effect on you. But the history behind this suit should frighten anyone concerned about the now quaint concept of justice. Before bringing this case to trial, Florida specifically changed the law to make it easier for them to win and make it more difficult for the tobacco companies to defend themselves. Makes ya proud to be an American, doesn't it?
The best site for keeping informed of legal shenanigans is Overlawyered.com. Here's some info specific to this case you're unlikely to see in the mass media.
"For Your Own Good" is an engaging look at the history of anti-smoking crusades and their impact on smokers and non-smokers. You can buy it in hard cover or paper back.
© 2000 Dave Hitt