Three hundred flight attendants -- who say they never smoked cigarettes -- plan to file individual lawsuits in Miami seeking compensation for alleged health injuries as a result of exposure to work-related environmental tobacco smoke (ETS).
They are seeking millions of dollars in damages.
Thousands of other lawsuits are expected to be filed by September -- the deadline under a class-action settlement reached between the airline attendants and the tobacco companies in Miami-Dade Circuit Court in 1997.
As part of that agreement, flight attendants won the right to sue the tobacco industry on an individual basis.
Tobacco maker Philip Morris said that it will vigorously defend itself against the individual lawsuits.
"These newly-filed cases raise ETS claims similar to those rejected by jurors in two recent trials against the tobacco industry," said John J. Mulderig, an associate general counsel with Philip Morris. "In addition, punitive damages cannot be sought or awarded in these cases because of an earlier settlement with members of the Broin class-action lawsuit."
The tobacco industry settled the Broin class-action lawsuit by agreeing to fund a $300 million medical research facility and pay the flight attendants' attorney $46 million in attorneys' fees plus expenses.
"That settlement has no bearing on the merits of the individual claims of the flight attendants," said Mulderig.
R.J. Reynolds, another tobacco company, said it would not comment on the expected lawsuits because they had not been filed yet.
The flight attendants claim that they were subject to harmful second-hand smoke aboard jetliners daily that caused their respiratory illnesses.
Passengers were allowed to smoke on jetliners for years, until smoking was banned by most airlines in 1989.