A Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge ruled on Friday that the $600 million trust fund set up to compensate Florida smokers and their survivors should be distributed. The fund was established to compensate smokers for their illnesses following the landmark 2000 trial. Judge David Miller ruled that the distribution should be pro rata, instead of based on an individualized determination of injury severity. Individual trials to determine extent of harm would take too long, said Judge Miller.
Smokers in the class action suit must have been diagnosed with a smoking-related illness before 11/21/1996. “Smoking-related illness” includes lung cancer, chronic pulmonary disease, emphysema, and several others.
This case has been pending before the court for over 14 years. It began with a class action filing against Big Tobacco in 1994 and proceeded to trial in 2000. At trial, a Florida jury handed down a landmark $145 billion verdict which was later overturned. However, in 2001, Big Tobacco realized that they would eventually be on the hook for a large sum of money and began the trust fund for the victims.
In order to be eligible for a distribution from the Engle Trust Fund, plaintiffs must be registered by June 16, 2008.