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Florida court of appeal affirms $28.3 million verdict against R.J. Reynolds; explicitly rejects RJR’s attempt to “essentially nullify” Florida Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in Engle

December 14th, 2010


Contact: Edward L. Sweda, Jr. or Mark Gottlieb (617) 373-8462 or (617) 373-2026

In a resounding defeat for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the First District Court of Appeal of Florida affirmed a jury’s award of $5 million in compensatory damages (later reduced by the trial judge to $3.3. million because the jury found Benny Martin 34% responsible for his death from lung cancer in 1995) and $25 million in punitive damages.

As the court noted, the “crux of this appeal is the extent to which an Engle class member can rely upon the findings from the class action when she individually pursues one or more Engle defendants for damages.”   RJR attempted to “diminish the preclusive effect of the findings by claiming, based on the Phase I verdict form, that the findings ‘facially’ prove nothing specifically relevant to Mr. Martin’s claims.  In so doing, RJR urges an application of the supreme court’s decision that would essentially nullify it.  We decline to do so.”

Edward L. Sweda, Jr., Senior Attorney for the Tobacco Product’s Liability Project (TPLP), a project of the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI), based at Northeastern University School of Law, called today’s decision the “worst nightmare for the tobacco defendants because the powerful Phase I findings will be applicable to Engle progeny trials in state court.”  Furthermore, the award of $25 million in punitive damages is entirely justified by what the court accurately described as the ‘evidence of decades-long wanton conduct by RJR…’”

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