High Court Declines to Review Florida Cigarette Verdict

March 27, 2012

One of a score of ongoing Florida personal injury cases against cigarette makers won't be reviewed by the nation's highest court.

1379962_cigarette_.jpgThe U.S. Supreme Court rejected a request by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. to hear its appeal of a $28.3 million jury verdict in a lawsuit against the company by the family of a smoker who died from lung cancer.

Benny Martin, formerly of Pensacola, died in 1995 following a bout with lung cancer allegedly caused by smoking R.J. Reynolds' Lucky Strike cigarettes for decades. Following a 2009 state court trial, a jury ordered the company to pay more than $3.3 million in compensatory damages as well as a $25 million punitive damages award to Martin's wife. It found that although Mr. Martin was partially at fault for his death, the majority of the blame rested with the Winston-Salem, North Carolina tobacco company.

According to Reuters, "[t]he lawsuit stemmed from the so-called "Engle progeny" cases filed against tobacco companies by sick Florida smokers or their relatives. A class-action lawsuit filed in 1994 by...the late Dr. Howard Engle, produced a $145 billion judgment against cigarette makers six years later." Although the state supreme court ultimately overturned the ruling, finding that a class action was inappropriate, it allowed the various plaintiffs to file individual lawsuits against the tobacco companies. The court also upheld the jury's conclusions that nicotine is addictive, smoking can cause disease such as lung cancer and tobacco giants like R. J. Reynolds attempted to hide this information from consumers.

Reynolds appealed the jury award in the Martin case, arguing that the trial court had prohibited the company from arguing certain points although they had not been covered in the Engle case. Specifically, the Associated Press reports, "R.J. Reynolds lawyers argued that the case should be overturned because Florida judges aren't making plaintiffs prove cigarette makers knowingly sold dangerous and defective products. People suing cigarette companies only have to prove addiction, and that their illnesses, or deaths of family members, were caused by cigarettes."

In February, an Alachua County jury awarded the family of John Huish, who died of lung cancer after 46 years of smoking Lucky Strike, Camel and Marlboro cigarettes, more than $3.3 million in damages - including a $3 million dollar punitive damages award - against both Reynolds and Phillip Morris. Huish started smoking cigarettes as a teenager in the 1940's, roughly 20 years before the first caution label appeared on a pack of cigarettes.

As consumers, we purchase products with the implied expectation that those products will not injure us in an unpredictable way. In addition to cigarettes, a defective product can be anything a consumer purchases (automobile parts, medications, children's toys, child safety seats, etc.) that isn't safe for its intended use. At Anidjar & Levine, our South Florida defective products lawyers stand ready to help those injured by unsafe products. We work hard to zealously represent clients throughout the area, including in Boca Raton, Hialeah and Pompano Beach. If you were injured by a defective product, call our Fort Lauderdale office today at (800) 747-3733 for a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer.

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