The Florida case – which was the second in the nation to be filed – was settled on August 24, 1997, for $11.3 Billion. The tobacco case turned out to be the largest civil case in the history of American jurisprudence and the Florida case was the largest in the history of Florida. At the start, however, it was not obvious that the case had merit or anywhere near that kind of potential. Big Tobacco had had an incredible record of successfully defending cases and defended them with a “scorched earth” policy. They had unlimited resources and hired the biggest and best national law firms to represent them. When the case came to us, it was generally viewed as a “long shot” at best.
Nance Cacciatore was one of only nine law firms chosen by Governor Chiles to represent the state. The financial commitment of each firm was significant, around $500,000 in upfront costs alone (with no guarantee of prevailing). The litigation lasted for over four years and during that time more expenditures were needed by the firms to finance the case. All of the partners in the firm, Jim Nance, Sammy Cacciatore, Ron Duryea, and Jack Hamilton worked on the case, shared in the costs, attended depositions and meetings, and ultimately participated in the recovery. Jim Nance was the partner who did the majority of the work and who was chosen by the group of firms to be a chief liaison among the attorneys.
The tobacco case was unique in that – unlike traditional tobacco cases where a smoker was suing the tobacco company for damages – we represented the state of Florida against the tobacco industry for the cost of medical treatment for injured smokers. The plaintiff was not an individual smoker (who should have known better) but an innocent party, the state of Florida. We were not seeking “intangible” damages like pain and suffering but rather “actual” medical expense incurred by the state to treat Medicaid recipients for disease caused by their years of smoking tobacco. This made the case different and potentially winnable (Big Tobacco had, up to that point, been very successful in defending individual cases brought by smokers). The Florida case settled in August of 1997 for $11.3 Billion.