Florida is “Ground Zero” for Tobacco Litigation

Florida juries continue to find in favor of plaintiffs in recent Big Tobacco lawsuits.  Recently, a jury in Ft. Lauderdale awarded $15 million in damages to the family of Margot Putney, a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer in 1995.  The defendants’ negligence and product defect were the legal cause of Margot Putney’s death according to the jury.   Damages were apportioned at 15% for Philip Morris, 30% for R.J. Reynolds, 20% for Liggett Group, and 35% for Ms. Putney.   The jury assessed $5 million in punitive damages, $2.5 million against R.J. Reynolds and $2.5 million against Philip Morris.  The total number of plaintiff victories in ‘Engle progeny’ cases in Florida is now 14 out of 16 trials in the past  14 months (12 consecutive Plaintiff victories).   The Putney family was represented by Rossman, Baumberger, Reboso, Speir & Connolly of Miami.

Here’s an excerpt from a great article:

“In 2000, the plaintiffs won $145 billion — that’s a b for billion — in what was the largest punitive damage award by a jury in U.S. history. An appeals court later overturned the verdict, and the Florida Supreme Court refused to reinstate it. But the Supreme Court left in place some critical legal changes in the tobacco wars.

First, the court permitted each of the Engle class’ members, known as the “Engle progeny,” to file lawsuits individually. Hence the 9,000-plus lawsuits awaiting their chance in Florida courts.

Second, the court said the Engle jury’s findings on cigarettes, their health effects and the companies’ conduct over the years had to be accepted in future tobacco cases.

That means smokers do not have to prove that cigarettes are harmful every single time they bring suit. It is already a given, the court stated, much to the tobacco industry’s dismay.

In federal cases, tobacco lawyers have appealed arguing these court instructions are unfair. They await a ruling on 4,400 federal cases, part of those 9,000-plus to be tried in Florida alone. But in Florida state courts, the state Supreme Court’s instructions are helping to generate verdicts at a breakneck pace.

What plaintiff lawyers have to prove in such cases is that the smoker (who may or may not be alive) was addicted and smoked a particular brand of cigarette.

In many cases, the verdicts are coming in with the juries assigning a percentage of responsibility to the smoker and the tobacco companies. Cigarette lawyers point to these split verdicts as evidence that these Florida cases are not clear-cut signs that the tobacco industry is losing.

Even so, that’s still left plenty for tobacco companies to pay.”

To read the entire article, go to the following link:


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