ST. PAUL -- Word of a $145 billion verdict against the tobacco industry in Florida sent officials here scrambling to assess the effect on Minnesota's 1998 settlement with cigarette makers.
''It's too early to tell,'' Leslie Sandberg, spokeswoman for Attorney General Mike Hatch, said Friday. ''But we are reviewing and monitoring the situation.''
She said Hatch's office is consulting with the National Association of Attorneys General, which has hired a law firm to study what would happen if the industry went bankrupt.
To date, Minnesota has received $788 million from the industry and the state expects to bring in $991 million over the next three years. After that, the industry is required to pay the state $200 million a year in perpetuity, said Jim Schowalter of the Department of Finance.
Former Attorney General Hubert ''Skip'' Humphrey III, who filed Minnesota's tobacco lawsuit, said the settlement -- valued at more than $6 billion over 25 years -- seems safe for now.
''Those payments are going to be continued to be paid unless (the industry) literally goes bankrupt,'' he said. ''I didn't see them declaring bankruptcy right now, they said they're going to appeal.''
The appeals process in Florida could take at least two years.
Besides, Humphrey said, the industry has warned about bankruptcy before, including during Minnesota's case.
''They're making money hands over fist and they're continuing to addict people all over the world,'' he said.
Minnesota was one of the first states to sue the tobacco industry. Attorneys here amassed millions of documents that exposed secrets about the industry's marketing strategy and knowledge executives had about tobacco's addictiveness.
Humphrey thinks the Minnesota documents cleared the way for verdicts like that in the class-action case brought by Florida smokers.
''There's no doubt that our opening up the truth so to speak has had a phenomenal impact not only here but currently pending around the world, frankly,'' he said.
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