October 17, 2010 - Juries in both Hillsborough County and Miami-Dade County today, October 15th decided in favor of Philip Morris USA in Engle cases. The verdicts today mark the fourth time in two weeks that Florida juries in an Engle case have found for Philip Morris USA. Last week, both a Duval County jury and a Manatee County jury returned verdicts for Philip Morris USA in other Engle cases (Warrick and Willis). The October 15th verdicts were in Campbell v. Philip Morris USA and RJ Reynolds (Hillsborough County) and Frazier v. Philip Morris USA and RJ Reynolds (Miami-Dade County).
Background: The Engle case is named after a Florida pediatrician named Howard Engle who was the lead plaintiff in a statewide class action filed in 1994 on behalf of smokers who were addicted to nicotine and developed cancer or other smoking-related illnesses as a result. In the first part of what was intended to be a three-phase trial, a Miami jury decided a series of common questions relating to the companies’ conduct and to the health effects of smoking. In the second phase, the jury awarded $145 billion in punitive damages to the class.Tobacco companies have been hit with thousands of new lawsuits in Florida from smokers and their families seeking compensation before Friday's court-imposed deadline of January 11, 2008 for filing individual claims. Since 2009, when the first of these cases went to trial, plaintiffs have won 19 out of 25 verdicts against three tobacco companies across the State of Florida.
In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the $145 billion verdict and ruled that the case couldn’t continue as a class action. At the same time, Florida’s high court upheld most of the Phase I factual findings and said they would apply in all of the individual suits filed by smokers who had been part of the Engle class. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case. The case is Brown v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., No. 08- 16158, 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Atlanta).
But the tide might be changing. The verdicts on October 15th mark the fourth time in two weeks that Florida juries in an Engle case have found for Philip Morris USA. The verdicts show that juries recognize that plaintiffs are responsible for their own smoking decisions," said Murray Garnick, Altria Client Services senior vice president and associate general counsel, speaking on behalf of Richmond, Va.-based Philip Morris USA.
He added, "Philip Morris USA will vigorously defend each individual Engle case that goes to trial. The jury's finding shows once again that Philip Morris USA still has powerful defenses in these cases, even when, in violation of Florida law and due process, the trial court allows plaintiffs to rely on a prior jury's general findings instead of proving the individual facts of their case," said Garnick. "We believe that this jury reached the correct result."
Recently, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals severely restricted the ability of plaintiffs in the federal cases to use findings from the prior Engle jury to meet their burden of proof at trial, according to a note posted on the Altria website.
Reference: Fourth Defense Verdict in an Engle Case in Two Weeks for Philip Morris USA, Press Release, Altria, 10/15/2010; Two Juries Rule in Favor of PM USA
Verdicts show juries recognize plaintiffs responsible for own smoking decisions, company says, CSP Daily News, 10/8/2010; Tobacco Lawsuits Puff Along in Florida by Nathan Koppel, The Wall Street Journal, 10/7/2010 - hardcopy.
Some related news briefs from Florida court cases:
Florida - PM USA to challenge verdict in the Piendle v. RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris USA case..;
Florida - tobacco companies ordered to pay $2.2 million to widow of smoker..;
Florida - individual cases against big tobacco can move forward, can rely on Engle jury findings..;
Florida - jury awards smoker $21M from Philp Morris USA.;
Florida - can big tobacco survive all these lawsuits they continue to lose??;
Florida - big tobacco loses another case..;
Florida - jury awards $26.6 million to smoker's widow..;
Florida - 9 year old case, appeals court upholds $24.8 million award..;
Florida - $300 million jury award to former smoker overturned..;
Florida - jury awards $300 million in ex-smoker's suit..;
Florida - tobacco companies ask court to block ruling..;
Florida - plaintiff drops case to avoid paying legal fees for Philip Morris USA..;
R.J. Reynolds to appeal plaintiff's award of $30 million..;
R.J. Reynolds loses Florida court trial - widow gets $30 million..;
Broward County Florida jury awards widow of smoker $1.5 million..