A Supreme Court decision will allow thousands of individual Florida plaintiffs to continue with their cases against tobacco companies, likely resulting in more multi-million dollar awards like those issued in recent weeks to former smokers who have sued cigarette makers over their health problems.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court rejected a request by tobacco companies to review the trial structure of what are known as the Engle progeny cases in Florida.
Thousands of individual claims against tobacco companies are proceeding to trial in Florida after a 2006 decision by the Florida Supreme Court in Engle v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. That case vacated a class action verdict from 2000, which awarded $145 billion to an estimated 700,000 smokers, but allowed plaintiffs to file individual claims and use the liability findings from the class action trial.
Tobacco companies requested a review of the constitutionality of the trial structure. After the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal earlier this month, Phillip Morris issued a press release indicating that it will continue to defend the individual lawsuits.
Earlier this month, a Palm Beach County jury awarded Kathleen Gafney Hanners $3.8 million for the death of her husband, Frank Gafney, who died of lung cancer in 1995. The jury ordered a total of $5.8 million in damages against Lorillard Tobacco Co. and R.J. Reynolds, but found Gafney 34% responsible for his inability to quit smoking, leading to the reduction in the final award.
Last week, another Florida jury awarded Lucinda Naugle $11.65 million in a case against Philip Morris. However, in this case the award may be seen as a success for the company, as an earlier jury awarded $300 million in damages for Naugle’s smoking health problems in November 2009, including emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. The company appealed the verdict and the Fourth District Court of Appeal threw out the original award and ordered a new damages trial.
While tobacco companies have attempted to argue that the Florida Engle Progeny trial structure is unfair and unconstitutional, because plaintiffs do not individually have to establish liability, plaintiffs maintain that they must still prove that the addiction caused the damages, as opposed to the damage being caused by the choice of the smoker to start smoking.