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Florida Supreme Court Reinstates Damages Awarded Ex-Smoker

The Florida Supreme Court Ruled Today That A Lower Court Had Erred In Overturning A $750,000 Award For A Former Smoker Against The Nation's No. 3 Cigarette Maker

Nov 23, 2000 | AP

The Florida Supreme Court ruled today that a lower court had erred in overturning a $750,000 award for a former smoker against the nation's No. 3 cigarette maker.

The decision reinstates the award against the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation won by the former smoker, Grady Carter, his lawyer, Floyd Matthews, said.

The award was only the second in 40 years of antismoking litigation in which a tobacco company was ordered to pay damages. The first, $400,000 to the family of Rose Cipollone of New Jersey in 1988, was overturned on appeal, and the lawsuit was later dropped.

Mr. Carter, 70, sued Brown & Williamson in 1995, blaming the company for the lung cancer he developed after smoking for 44 years. A jury ruled that cigarettes were a defective product and that their makers were negligent for not warning of the danger.

An appeals court reversed the award nearly two years later, saying Mr. Carter had waited too long to go to court. It also said that a 1969 federal law barred lawsuits that claim the wording of the warning on cigarette packs is inadequate.

In a 5-to-0 ruling, the Florida Supreme Court disagreed with both conclusions and said the district court had overstepped its role.

"Accordingly, we quash the district court's decision in this case," Justice Major B. Harding wrote for the court.

Mr. Carter, a retired air traffic controller who lives in the Jacksonville suburb of Orange Park, called the ruling a "great decision."

"I felt all along it was a good case," Mr. Carter said. "I'm thankful that it came out today, the day before Thanksgiving.".

Mr. Carter started smoking Lucky Strikes when he was 16 and smoked them for 25 years before he switched brands in 1972. Several efforts to quit smoking failed, until he coughed up blood in January 1991.

A few weeks later, he learned he had cancer. So far his health has remained good.

A Brown & Williamson lawyer said the company was considering whether to ask the court to reconsider. The company, based in Louisville, Ky., could also go directly to the United States Supreme Court.

The lawyer, John Finley, said in a statement that the ruling was "in direct conflict with the United States Supreme Court decision in the Cipollone case."

Brown & Williamson is a subsidiary of British American Tobacco P.L.C. Its brands include Kool, Capri, Raleigh, Viceroy, Carlton, Lucky Strike and Pall Mall.

Two years ago, a jury ordered Brown & Williamson to pay nearly $1 million to the family of a dead smoker. It was the first time a jury awarded punitive damages in a tobacco liability case. That verdict also was overturned. The decision was appealed.

Last summer, a class-action lawsuit in Miami produced a record $145 billion verdict, which a judge upheld two weeks ago. The case still faces appeals in state courts by Brown & Williamson and the four other largest cigarette companies.

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