The Florida Supreme Court, the state’s highest court, has ruled that the widow of a smoker who died of lung cancer may seek punitive damages against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company on strict liability and negligence claims. This action marked a big win for Engle progeny plaintiffs, Law360 reports.
The “Engle Progeny Litigation” began with a 1994 class action lawsuit by a Miami Beach pediatrician, Howard Engle, claiming “injuries suffered from the health effects of smoking.” This led to thousands of individual lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers blaming them for their resulting illnesses, creating a stream of trials in Florida state and federal courts, reports Tobacco Control Legal Consortium.
The Florida Supreme Court decertified the original Engle class suit and overturned a $145 billion verdict which allowed up to 700,000 people who might have won judgments to file suits of their own and rely on the jury’s findings.
The plaintiff was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages for the death of her husband for smoke-induced lung cancer in 1992.
The court said, “The procedural posture of the case changed entirely when this court vacated the entire punitive damages award of $145 billion and the related findings on punitive damages, thus wiping the slate clean as it relates to punitive damages and requiring each individual plaintiff to prove entitlement to punitive damages in his or her individual lawsuit.”
According to the Winston-Salem Journal Analysts, analysts say Reynolds and other manufacturers may “face risk of large jury punitive-damages awards as punishment for intentional misconduct or gross negligence by the defendant,” according to the Winston-Salem Journal.