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Florida Supreme Court Denies Petition for Review of Tobacco Case

Sep 12, 2014

On September 9, 2014, a petition made by Lorillard Tobacco Company was denied. This further strengthens the ongoing Engle-Progeny battle against Big Tobacco.

The Florida Supreme Court denied a petition for discretionary review of the Third District Court of Appeal’s decision in Lorillard Tobacco Co. v. Alexander. The lawsuit was brought by the wife of a man who died of lung cancer; the case was brought in state court in Miami-Dade County by Jordan Chaikin of Parker Waichman LLP along with co-counsel Alex Alvarez of The Alvarez Law Firm; Gary Paige of Gordon & Doner, P.A.; John Mills of The Mills Law Firm; and Robert Glazier of the Law Office of Robert S. Glazier.

The case is part of the third round in Florida’s “Engle litigation.” The Engle litigation was originally filed in 1994 in Florida Supreme Court and involves thousands of individual lawsuits brought against cigarette companies. The lawsuits are believed to be more effectively resolvable individually because of how the Court originally created the plan for how the cases would be tried, according to ScotusBlog. The 1994 Engle case involved six individuals and eight claims of injustices that were allegedly conducted by tobacco firms against smokers including claims of fraud and claims that cigarettes are inherently dangerous due to their flawed designs.

Following a three-week trial in this case the jury found in favor of the wife regarding her claims against Lorillard for strict liability, fraudulent concealment, conspiracy to commit fraud by concealment, and negligence. The jury awarded her $20 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages. Ultimately, a compensatory damages figure in the amount of $10 million was reached. The Court wrote, “Because we find Lorillard’s multiple arguments on appeal without merit; the remitted compensatory damages award in the amount of $10 million and the punitive damages award in the amount of $25 million are neither excessive nor unconstitutional; and the compensatory and punitive damages awards are supported by the manifest weight of the evidence, we affirm.”

Engle was originally filed as a nationwide class action on behalf of smokers who suffered from, or died from, a smoking-related disease. The litigation was reduced to cover a class in Florida and was further reduced so as not to be a class action at all. Engle was ultimately broadened into the thousands of individual trials it represents today—the so-called “third round,” according to ScotusBlog. In the first case, the Florida courts created a legal plan under which the original case would be the one in which findings of fact and legal liability would be developed for all smokers and all types of cigarettes; this plan would become binding in later cases. The second round was meant to decide questions of liability for three of the class’s representatives, as well as a question of punitive damages for the entire class.

The original Engle jury awarded the class $145 in punitive damages; the award and class designation were set aside by Florida’s Supreme Court. When the individual cases began to be tried in the third round, the original jury’s findings were binding. Following the state Supreme Court’s 2006 decision, over 9,000 individual claims were brought and, in the following seven years, the tobacco industry has sought to have the High Court review the original Engle decision and Engle’s “progeny” lawsuits that followed, wrote ScotusBlog. The Court continually denies these requests.

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