Florida - 9 year old case, appeals court upholds $24.8 million award..

March 20, 2010 - A 9-year-old products liability case produced a major victory over tobacco companies Wednesday, March 17th when the 3rd District Court of Appeal (DCA) upheld a $24.8 million award to a man who died of cancer shortly after trial. The appellate panel offered no legal reasoning in its unsigned one-paragraph decision in John Lukacs' case against cigarette makers Philip Morris USA, Brown & Williamson and Liggett Group.

The unanimous opinion by Judges Richard Suarez, Angel CortiƱas and Vance Salter is the first appellate ruling upholding a verdict since the Florida Supreme Court dismantled a smoker class action and opened the door to individual trials. (Cigarette Makers Face Thousands of New Florida Lawsuits..)

The case was filed on behalf of eminent domain lawyer John Lukacs, who was covered by the so-called Engle class action that pitted Florida smokers against the nation's five largest cigarette companies. The state's high court ejected a Miami jury's landmark $145 billion award and dismantled the class in 2006. Background: The original Florida lawsuit was filed in 1994 by a Miami Beach pediatrician, Dr. Howard Engle, who had smoked for decades and couldn't quit. The class of smokers was estimated at up to 700,000 when the giant $145 billion award was issued in 2000. (Dr. Howard A. Engle, the veteran pediatrician who lent his name to a landmark class action suit against Big Tobacco, dies..

With Lukacs dying, his attorneys sued and pushed for a quick trial in 2002 instead of forcing their cancer-ridden client to wait for the Supreme Court ruling.
"He wanted his day in court, and the only way to obtain his day in court was to try the case before the Florida Supreme Court made its decision," said Alters Boldt Brown Rash special counsel Bruce Rogow, who argued the appeal for Lukacs' family.

The jury awarded Lukacs' widow, Yolanda, a total of $37.5 million in 2002. The award was later reduced to $24.8 million.

Lukacs v. Philip Morris, Inc., et al.- Background, award $37.5 million, June 11, 2002..

Tobacco attorneys appealed, challenging trial decisions and insisting smoker trials could not proceed without a Supreme Court directive.

The 3rd DCA decision cited the Supreme Court ruling, which allowed smokers to pursue individual lawsuits and offer the original jury's findings as fact. New juries are advised to accept that smoking causes cancer and other illnesses, cigarettes are addictive and tobacco companies defrauded consumers by misleading them.

Miami attorney Stuart Ratzan, whose firm Ratzan Rubio is involved in more than 100 smoker cases statewide, called it "one more in what's been a series of victories."
"They're in big trouble," he said. "This is a quick pronouncement by an appellate court. When the victories continue to come one after the next in every layer of our justice system, the end is near."

About 8,000 smoker lawsuits are pending in state courts. Most were filed to meet a one-year deadline set in the Supreme Court ruling. (Cigarette Makers Face Thousands of New Florida Lawsuits..)

Murray Garnick, Altria Client Services senior vice president and associate general counsel, speaking for subsidiary Philip Morris. "We are in the process of considering our options for further review."

Reference: Fla. Court Upholds $24 Million Verdict Against Tobacco Companies, Jose Pagliery, Daily Business Review,
Law.com, 3/19/2010.

Some related news briefs in Florida:
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..