The ruling was a defeat for the tobacco company defendants, which included No. 1 cigarette maker Philip Morris USA, a unit of Altria Group Inc. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc., Lorillard Tobacco Co., a unit of Loews Corp, the Brown & Williamson unit of British American Tobacco Plc, and Vector Group’s Liggett.
“The Court accepts jurisdiction of this case,” the court said in a posting on its Web site.
A Miami jury ruled in July 2000 that the tobacco companies deceived the public about the health dangers of cigarettes and should pay $145 billion in punitive damages to ailing Florida smokers, estimated to number 300,000 to 700,000.
Florida’s Third District Court of Appeals overturned the ruling in May 2003 and decertified the class action. It said Florida’s participation in a multi-state settlement with the tobacco companies barred the awarding of punitive damages.
The plaintiffs’ attorneys then asked the state Supreme Court to review the dismissal, which it has now agreed to do.
The Engle case, filed nearly a decade ago by Miami Beach pediatrician Howard Engle, blamed smoking for a host of diseases.
It was the first smokers’ lawsuit to be certified as a class action, a legal process that allows a small group of plaintiffs to sue on behalf of a larger group with similar complaints.