Mississippi trial lawyer Richard Scruggs says the fees could run as much as $18 billon, which might look “a little obscene.” And he’s right. Yet the liability sweepstakes keeps expanding: Legislators in Maryland and Vermont are pushing to rig the law to hold cigarette manufacturers liable for Medicaid costs. And, not so incidentally, to give local attorneys a huge windfall.
Two years ago, state attorneys general, mostly governor wannabes who never let principle stand between them and higher office, began filing lawsuits against tobacco companies over the Medicaid costs of providing tobacco‐related health care for the poor. But the odds didn’t look good. Only one lawsuit against cigarette‐makers had ever resulted in a judgement, and that case is on appeal
So states signed up leading trial lawyers and promised them a share in the spoils — 25 percent of the take in Florida, Maryland and Texas. States also began changing the rules in order to improve their chances of victory.
Florida blazed the trail, approving legislation that denied cigarette companies the right to assert any of the usual defenses, authorized the use of aggregate statistics to “prove” causation and allowed dam. ages to be assessed based on a company’s market share. In essence, Florida said, the tobacco companies have money, we want it’ and we aren’t going to let traditional liability rules or due process protections stand in the way
Short of ordering the courts to rule in its favor, Florida did all that it could to guarantee the result. Which helped push the tobacco companies to settle nationally for $368.5 billion. The roughly 300 attorneys involved in the litigation have been salivating over their potentially obscene fees ever since.
Then states began reconsidering their generosity For example, the lawyers who represented Florida stood to collect an astonishing $2.8 billion — about $14,000 per hour, assuming they spent every hour since they filed the suit working on the case.