Susan Rosenblatt, Who Took On Big Tobacco, Dies At 70

Susan Rosenblatt, who, along with her husband and legal partner, Stanley Rosenblatt, took on Big Tobacco in a Florida case that seemed like an absurd mismatch for their small business, but which resulted in a record $ 144.8 billion price tag of jury in favor of people sickened by cigarettes, died Nov. 14 in Houston. She was 70 years old.

Her death, at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, was confirmed by her son David Rosenblatt, who said the cause was acute myeloid leukemia.

Ms. Rosenblatt, who lived in Miami Beach, was the quieter part of the Rosenblatt cabinet; in the headline-grabbing tobacco case and other major lawsuits, Stanley Rosenblatt did much of the court presentation and post-court press conferences. But it was Ms. Rosenblatt’s legal knowledge – the research she did, the briefs she wrote – that provided the ammunition that made their success possible.

“I always said I didn’t have a dream team, I had Susan,” Rosenblatt said in a phone interview.

This dream team (which also included a small support staff) has never been more challenged than by the case the Rosenblatts filed in 1994 against RJ Reynolds and other tobacco companies on behalf of seven smokers – including one, Dr. Howard A. Engle, was the pediatrician to most of the Rosenblatt’s nine children and became the principal applicant. The case was certified as a class action suit representing all Florida smokers, a group that included hundreds of thousands of people.

The case, one of many sued at the time against the industry by states and individuals, dragged on for years. In 1996, when the most important of these cases, a national class action lawsuit, was dismissed by a federal appeal board in New Orleans, Mr. Rosenblatt told the New York Times: “Now it’s up to Ma and Pa Kettle to decide. He and his wife sued the Engle case, arguing that the industry knowingly made smokers addicted and failed to properly warn them of the dangers of their products.

In 2000, a jury awarded several representative plaintiffs $ 12.7 million in compensatory damages, then awarded the entire class astonishing punitive damages: nearly $ 145 billion, the largest in the world. story.

The price did not hold; in 2003, a Florida appeal board dismissed it, concluding, among other things, that the case should not have been declared a class action lawsuit because every smoker’s case is unique. But the Rosenblatt’s efforts were not in vain: in 2006, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that those who wanted to sue could rely on some of the original jury’s findings, including that smoking causes lung cancer, that the nicotine in cigarettes is addictive and as cigarette companies have withheld information on the health effects of smoking.

Since then, individual lawsuits, known as the Engle offspring cases, have been dealt with in Florida courts, some successfully and others not. Mr Rosenblatt said the legacy of his work and that of his wife came first.

“The fraud, the conspiracy – there is now a record of the evil of the tobacco industry in all these years,” he said.

Susan Goldman was born on January 5, 1951 in Brooklyn. His parents, Sol and Shirley (Kaslow) Goldman, together operated a real estate business.

When Susan was around 10, the family moved to Miami Beach. Academically, she was a prodigy, enrolling at the University of Miami at age 13 and graduating in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in economics. She graduated from the university’s law school in 1972. She obtained a master’s degree in law in 1978.

She and Mr. Rosenblatt married in 1980. She maintained her own appeals office until her growing family took over.

“But after three kids, I was really bored,” she told the Miami Herald in 1996. “I’m not the type to go out with girlfriends for lunch.”

So she started working with her husband, even as their family continued to grow.

“I was very lucky to have easy pregnancies,” she told the Herald. “And the kind of work I do is read cases, read depositions, prepare briefs, which I could do at home in bed.”

While Ma and Pa Kettle’s self-description is apt in some ways, the Rosenblats were hardly newbies when they took on the tobacco companies. They had won important awards for the plaintiffs in a number of cases. Most notably, they had previously clashed with the tobacco industry in another case, representing airline flight attendants who claimed their health was damaged by second-hand smoke during the days when it was allowed to smoke on planes. . This case, filed in 1991, ended in 1997 with a settlement in which cigarette manufacturers agreed to pay $ 300 million for the study of tobacco-related illnesses.

Ms Rosenblatt said she was reluctant to face Big Tobacco – “I thought it was chasing windmills,” she told The Times in 2000. But, her husband said, she came and nudged him, knowing he would get a kick out of impeaching the tobacco executives he had come to insult.

“I think she made me happy,” he said. “Take the depositions of these guys and have fun, and it won’t get anywhere.” And it took over our life.

When the Engle case moved forward, the tobacco industry, as it had done in other cases, attempted to bury its opponents in petitions and challenges, hoping to exhaust lawyers and litigants. complainants. During the trial itself, which lasted almost two years, companies sometimes used qualified lawyers just to interview a single witness or plead a single motion, Rosenblatt said, as he leaned on his wife.

“Sometimes the only thing I used to cross-examine these witnesses was what Susan would have prepared for me,” he said. And while he was cross-examining him, she would work on what he needed the next day.

If Mr. Rosenblatt attracted attention, Ms. Rosenblatt was, as the Chicago Sun-Times described in 2000, “the legal expert balancing her expertise in front of the jury, most anxious compared to her sluggish nonchalance, the person of detail balancing its overall view.

In addition to her husband and their son David, Mrs. Rosenblatt is survived by two other sons, Joshua and Moshe; six daughters, Miriam Hoffman, Rachel Gdanski, Rebecca Assaraf, Jaclyn Richter, Rina Kleiner and Sharon Franco; one brother, Alan Goldman; one sister, Ruth Schwager; and 30 grandchildren.

Busy as they were, the Rosenblats, who were Orthodox Jews, never worked on the Sabbath, yet Ms. Rosenblatt sometimes lamented that she spent so much time on business at the expense of family life. Mr. Rosenblatt, however, said there was a philosophy behind their domestic madness.

“Susan felt, and I agreed with her, that the most important thing parents can do is lead by example,” he said.

Ms Hoffman, the couple’s eldest daughter, said a bit of family tradition fused Ms Rosenblatt’s legal expertise and parenting skills. At one point, she said, her mother acquired a used school minibus – yellow, of course – to transport the brood here and there. A neighbor in Miami Beach complained that parking a yellow school bus in a residential area was a violation of city code. Ms Rosenblatt, Ms Hoffman said, convinced an administrative judge that if the bus was not yellow it would comply. So she had it painted green.

“It was my mother,” Ms. Hoffman said via email. “She always had a special way of doing things. Unlike anyone else.


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