Florida Tobacco Lawsuits Continue in State Courts

    Tobacco Expert WitnessA $100 million dollar settlement was reached between the tobacco companies R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Phillip Morris USA Inc., and Lorillard Tobacco Co. The settlement resolved about 400 cases that were pending in a Florida federal court. However, it did not affect thousands more that remain pending in Florida state courts.

    The abundance of individual lawsuits pending in the Florida state courts stem from Engle v. Liggett Group. Thus encouraging people injured by tobacco usage to file suit. Engle, a class action, was a unique case because although it repealed the $145 million dollar settlement that was awarded in the plaintiff class, the Florida Supreme Court set precedent that in cases against tobacco companies, the fact that the companies knowingly sold dangerous products and hid smoking hazards could be taken as fact.

    Since Engle, thousands of individual plaintiffs have filed suit against tobacco companies. Many of those have led to awards to plaintiffs far bigger than the federal court settlement will be receiving. One recent large plaintiff award came in September 2014, when a jury in a Florida federal court returned a verdict of $27,010,000.14 against Philip Morris USA Inc. The $27 million verdict in favor of Plaintiff Judith Berge included a punitive damages award of 20,760,000 dollars and 14 cents.

    However, in April of 2015, a U.S. appeals court ruling made it more difficult for smokers suing tobacco companies in Florida to prove claims that cigarettes are dangerous. Or that tobacco companies were negligent. The ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed more than $800,000 in damages from R.J. Reynolds and Altria Group Inc unit Philip Morris USA Inc awarded in 2013 to Earl Graham. His wife Faye, a longtime smoker, died in 1993 of lung cancer.

    More broadly, the court said smokers who, like Graham, were originally part of the massive class action in Florida against the tobacco companies, Engel, could not rely on findings from the class action trial to prove claims that cigarettes are defective and tobacco companies were negligent.

    In appealing the Graham verdict, R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris said it was unfair to allow Engle plaintiffs to hold tobacco companies liable based on the class action jury findings. These are applied across the board to many cigarette brands and makers.

    The 11th Circuit agreed, saying that the Florida Supreme Court in Engle was essentially creating a ban on tobacco products. Which the U.S. Congress had expressly declined to impose. Subsequently, plaintiffs bringing liability and negligence claims against the tobacco companies must build cases on their specific injury. Rather than just the inherent risks of smoking. The decision will not affect claims alleging that companies conspired to cover up the dangers of smoking, the ruling said.

    Experts in public health, as well as various medical experts depending on the ailments affecting a plaintiff, can be used in cases against tobacco companies.