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Fla. Tobacco Trial Set for February

October 1, 1997

MIAMI (AP) _ A judge today set a Feb. 9 trial date for a tobacco lawsuit covering all sick Florida smokers.

Circuit Judge Alan Postman must wait for a landmark secondhand-smoke trial being handled by the smokers’ attorneys to finish in the same courthouse before starting the smoking case.

Attorneys for the smokers told the judge that they expect the first case to wrap up in October, but cigarette industry attorneys would say only that they expect a verdict by Thanksgiving.

The timing is critical because the trial is expected to butt up against congressional consideration of a proposed $368 billion nationwide settlement of tobacco litigation, which would wipe out the smokers’ class-action suit.

Susan Rosenblatt, attorney for the smokers, is uncertain if the lawsuit will be exempt from a settlement if the trial begins before Congress acts.

``There’s really no precedent to what’s going on,″ she said. ``Once we’re in trial, I think our position is much stronger.″

The lawsuit covers an estimated 500,000 smokers and the survivors of dead smokers who suffered illnesses they blame on cigarettes. The lawsuit charges the tobacco industry addicted smokers and conspired to hide the dangers of smoking for decades.

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