Big Tobacco's Titanic Trial

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MIAMI: This is why Big Tobacco wanted a deal in the first place: a $200 billion class-action lawsuit, brought on behalf of up to 500,000 sick Florida smokers. The plaintiffs' two lawyers, the husband-and-wife legal team of Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt, scored a $349 million settlement for flight attendants last year. The old deal with the states would have capped the tobacco industry's liability for court losses at around $5 billion a year. Now the sky's the limit -- and the Rosenblatts are aiming high.

Jury selection, which is expected to take a month, began Monday; the arguments are familiar. Plaintiffs say cigarettes are a defective and dangerous product -- and they have the usual sheaf of documents describing industry malfeasance to back it up. Big Tobacco's side is the same as ever: Of course smoking is bad for you -- don't blame us. It's an argument that has worked before. But if the industry lets the case go to trial and loses, it could be looking at a long-running and very expensive precedent. With a hostile judge (the same one who presided over the stewardess trial) and two lawyers on a hot streak, the betting here is on a settlement.