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Florida Court Rules in Tobacco Company Case

cigEarlier this month, tobacco companies won in a Florida appeals court when the court overturned a multimillion-dollar award to a smoker’s family. The tobacco companies in the case, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Philip Morris USA, Inc., Lorillard Tobacco Co., and Liggett Group, faced a number of claims, including negligence, strict liability, fraudulent concealment, and conspiracy to commit fraud. These claims were brought forth by Johnnie Calloway’s estate in RJ Reynold Tobacco Co. v. Calloway.

Calloway had started smoking when he was just 15 years old. In 1991, Calloway suffered a heart attack, and he died of bladder cancer approximately one year later. A physician stated that Calloway’s death was related to his habit of smoking three packs of cigarettes per day.

At the end of trial, the jury concluded that Calloway was approximately 20 percent at fault for his death, with the rest of the blame divided among the tobacco companies. Calloway’s estate was awarded a total of $9 million, and his daughter was awarded $7.1 million. Additionally, the court stuck the tobacco companies with a $54.85 million award of punitive damages. The defendants appealed.

On appeal, the defendants argued that a new trial was required because the plaintiff’s lawyer repeatedly made damaging statements to the jurors. Also, the defendants said that the trial court made a mistake when it told the jury about the estate’s fraud claims and submitted a final judgment that possibly held each tobacco company liable for the entire award. The tobacco companies also claimed that since the jury found that the plaintiff was partly responsible for his own death, the compensatory damages should also have been lowered on the remaining claims.

In reply to the defendant’s appeal, the plaintiff stated that the trial court erred when it allowed many of the defendant’s objections pertaining to the remarks made by the plaintiff’s attorney.

After reviewing the evidence, the appellate court determined that the estate’s lawyer made numerous inappropriate statements that created the potential for error. Even still, the court refused to reverse the judgment on this issue, due to the fact that the lower court correctly sustained the defendant’s objections and told jurors to disregard the comments.

The court also held that the lower court’s choice not to use a reliance instruction that was proposed by the defendants concerning the fraudulent concealment claim warranted reversal. The court explained that the detrimental reliance facet of the defendant’s requested jury instructions was a vital element of the estate’s fraudulent concealment claim. The court also noted that the jury instructions did not sufficiently tackle the issues of the estate’s conspiracy to commit fraudulent concealment claims. Since the appellate court reversed the jury’s award on two claims on which punitive damages were based, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals said it had to reverse the punitive damages award as well.

Ultimately, the court remanded the case for a new trial on the fraud-based claims and punitive damages issue.

If a defective product has harmed you, it is important to seek the help of a qualified Miami product liability attorney. At the Law Offices of Robert Dixon, our reputable team can scrutinize the facts of your case to determine the at-fault party. We proudly serve clients throughout South Florida. For more information, do not hesitate to call us at 1-877-499-HURT (4878) or contact us online today.

More Blog Posts:

Court Addresses Pain and Suffering Damages Issue in Florida Car Accident Case, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, January 18, 2016

Florida Supreme Court Clarifies the Collateral Source Rule, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, January 4, 2016

The “American Rule” in the Context of Florida Personal Injury Cases, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blawg, December 24, 2016