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For the Eighth Time, Court Denies Review of Tobacco Verdicts

Jun 11, 2014

The Supreme Court just, again, refused to review tobacco verdicts that challenged individual damages verdicts.

This represents the eighth time in seven years that the High Court denied review; this time, of 10 new petitions that total a combined $64 million. The denial was made without comment or noted dissents, according to ScotusBlog, and involves a long-running fight between Florida smokers, or their heirs, and some key tobacco firms. The cases are part of what are considered the third round in the “Engle litigation” in Florida. The litigation involves thousands of individual lawsuits that some say are easier to win against cigarette makers because of the initial court-created plan on how these cases would be tried.

The original Engle case, filed in 1994, was brought by six individual who made eight separate claims of alleged legal wrongdoings by tobacco companies against smokers, such as claims that all cigarettes are dangerous due to flawed designs and fraud claims. Initially, the case was filed as a class action and on behalf of all smokers who died as a result of a smoking-related disease or who been sickened from those diseases, wrote ScotusBlog. The case was also originally a nationwide lawsuit that was reduced to cover one class in Florida. The case was again removed as a class action and expanded into thousands of individual trials.

In the first of these cases, Florida courts developed a plan that would make findings of fact and or legal liability for all smokers and all types of cigarettes. These would be binding in future phase, according to ScotusBlog. The next round would decide questions of liability toward three of the class’s representatives and questions of punitive damages for the entire class; the third round would involve the individual cases.

The original Engle jury awarded $145 billion in punitive damages to the class; however, the Florida High Court put the award and the class designation aside. When the third-round individual cases started to reach trial, the original jury’s findings were binding. After the 2006 decision, over 9,000 individual lawsuits were filed and, over the next seven years, the tobacco firms continually attempted to have the Supreme Court review the Engle decision and the so-called “Engle progeny,” or the follow-up lawsuit. The tobacco companies were not successful, ScotusBlog reported.

In the most recent legal effort, 10 petitions were filed on March 28 that raised basic questions concerning constitutional due process violations. The attorneys agreed that two of the cases were preferred for Court review and the lawyers in those cases suggested that the Court grant one or both. Lawyers in the other cases agreed that those cases would remain on hold until both lead cases were decided. According to ScotusBlog, one case derived from a state appeals court ruling and involved a $600,000 reward and the other case was from a federal appeals court decision and involved verdicts of $27,500 and $7,676. The other cases were larger and ranged from $5.5 million in compensatory and $20 million in punitive damages, totaling $13.4 million in compensatory and $51.6 million in punitive damages.

The individuals who won the verdicts in the 10 cases opted against responding to the petitions; however, the Supreme Court asked each for a response. After it examined all of the cases, the court denied the petitions and did not grant any new cases for review, ScotusBlog indicated.

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