Smokers’ Settlement Results in $100M Payment to Resolve 400 Florida Engle Progeny Cases

Three of the largest U.S. tobacco companies are offering to pay $100 million to settle 400 Florida “Engle progeny” lawsuits filed by smokers or their decedents, which allege that the companies intentionally hid information about the the cancerous side effects of cigarettes and marketed their products in a way designed to make children addicted. 

The smokers’ settlement must be approved by claimants, whose claims all stem from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision that vacated a $145 billion judgment in a class action lawsuit brought on behalf of an estimated 700,000 smokers in the state. Following that decision, class members have been able to initiate individual lawsuits and use the liability findings from the original trial.

Known as the “Engle progeny” cases, several individual smokers’ lawsuits have resulted in multi-million dollar damage awards. While plaintiffs are not required to establish liability against the cigarette makers, they must still establish that their injuries were caused by a smoking addiction.

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Under terms of the settlement, Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco have each agreed to pay $42.5 million, and Lorillard has agreed to pay $15 million. Reynolds is expected to buy Lorillard sometime this year.

Massive Jury Awards for Smokers

The tobacco companies face substantial liability by continuing to take individual cases to trial, where internal company reports, memos and other correspondence will be presented to juries, which highlight the steps executives took to hide the cancerous effects of cigarettes, and to market cigarettes in a way that caused children to become addicted as early in life as possible.

In July 2014, a jury awarded Cynthia Robinson $23.6 billion, mainly in punitive damages awards, in a lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds over the death of her husband, Michael Johnson. However, that award is widely anticipated to be overturned or significantly reduced on appeal.

Prior to that verdict, with only about two percent of the Engle progeny cases having gone to court, tobacco manufacturers had already been hit with $500 million worth of jury verdicts in the individual trials.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently rejected a request by tobacco manufacturers to hear an appeal, which challenged the constitutionality of the Engle trial structure. As a result, individual cases are expected to continue to trial in the coming months and years if the smokers’ settlement offer is not accepted.

This is the largest settlement since Liggett, a division of Vector Group, agreed to pay $110 million to settle nearly 5,000 Engle progeny cases filed against it in 2013.

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