The Florida Supreme Court reaffirmed its 2006 “Engle” ruling that made it easier for thousands of smokers to sue tobacco companies for smoking- related illnesses.
Florida’s high court today upheld a $2.5 million award to the family of a dead smoker against Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris USA, Reynolds American Inc.’s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Vector Group Ltd.’s Liggett unit.
The verdict was won by James Douglas, whose wife, Charlotte Douglas, died in 2008 of lung cancer at the age of 62.
The court, in a 6-1 decision, rejected arguments by the tobacco companies that its ruling in the Engle case violated their constitutional right to due process of the law.
The state Supreme Court in 1996 initially let the trial court go forward with a class action, or group lawsuit, on behalf of injured Florida smokers. In the 2006 ruling, Florida’s highest court decertified the statewide class action and threw out a $145 billion punitive damage verdict against the industry.
At the same time, the court endorsed many jury findings in the case, including that the companies were negligent, conspired to hide information about the dangers of smoking and sold defective products.
The ruling is known as the Engle decision, after Howard Engle, the lead plaintiff in the case filed in 1994 on behalf of Florida smokers addicted to nicotine who developed cancer, heart disease and other illnesses. Engle, a Florida pediatrician, died in 2009.
Philip Morris said today in a statement it plans to seek further review in the case.
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