OLR Research Report

September 3, 2008




By: John Kasprak, Senior Attorney

You asked if Florida is using some of its tobacco settlement funds to enable state residents harmed by tobacco usage to file claims.

Florida is not using its tobacco settlement funds to allow individuals to file claims related to harm caused from tobacco usage. But as of April 2008, $600 million has been set aside in what is known as the “Engle Trust Fund.” Smokers, ex-smokers, and survivors of people who have died from smoking-related diseases can file a claim. To qualify for a share of the fund, individuals must have suffered or presently suffer, or have died from diseases and medical conditions caused by addiction to cigarettes that contained nicotine (see list of conditions below). The disease or medical condition must have been diagnosed or first manifested itself on or before November 21, 1996. The deadline for individuals to register to make claims from the fund was June 16, 2008.

The Engle Trust Fund is the result of a 1994 class action lawsuit against the tobacco industry that originally went to trial in July 1998. Miami Beach pediatrician Howard Engle headed the class action lawsuit, which appeared to be over in 2000 when a jury ruled against major tobacco companies. The trial court ruled that the tobacco companies deceived smokers about the danger of cigarettes and ordered them to pay $145 billion to ailing Florida smokers, which it estimated to number between 300,000 to 700,00 individuals.

In 2003, Florida's Third District Court of Appeals overturned the verdict and said that Florida's settlement with the tobacco companies in a multistate lawsuit barred the awarding of punitive damages. It also decertified the class action. In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court refused to reinstate the $145 billion punitive damage award against the tobacco companies. But it did uphold some of the key findings of the Miami trial court, among them, that cigarette smoking causes cancer, heart disease, and other ailments, and that the tobacco companies marketed 'defective and unreasonably dangerous” products. The high court reinstated damage awards to two cancer patients, but upheld decertification of the plaintiff class.

Knowing that they would be responsible for some damages, the tobacco companies put up $700 million to benefit smokers. That increased to $800 million with interest. In April of this year, a circuit court judge ruled that the attorneys who brought the case should receive over $200 million for their work over the 14 year history of the case.

Distribution of the fund to eligible claimants will be equally divided rather than based on severity of illness.

Smoking –related diseases and medical conditions that qualify are:

● aortic aneurysm;

● bladder cancer;

● cerebrovascular disease (including stroke);

● cervical cancer;

● chronic obstructive pulmonary disease - COPD (including emphysema);

● coronary heart disease (including cardiovascular disease, hardening of the arteries, atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease and arteriolosclerosis, angina, abnormal blood clotting, blood vessel damage, myocardial infarction (heart attack));

● esophageal (throat) cancer;

● kidney cancer;

● laryngeal (throat or voice box) cancer;

● lung cancer (including adenocarcinoma, large cell carcinoma, small cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma);

● complications of pregnancy (miscarriage);

● oral cavity/tongue cancer;

● pancreatic cancer;

● peripheral vascular disease (including Buerger's disease);

● pharyngeal cancer; and

● stomach cancer.