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From Products Liability Law Daily, May 13, 2013

$16.8M Tobacco Award Tossed, Case Remanded for New Trial Following Error on Engle Class Addiction Causation Issue

By Kathleen Bianco, J.D.

A directed verdict on the issue of Engle class membership against cigarette manufacturers in favor of the personal representatives of a smoker who died from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) was vacated after it was determined that the causation element needed to establish membership in the Engle class was a question of fact for the jury to decide, an appellate panel in Florida ruled in an opinion reversing a final judgment and remanding the matter for a new trial (Philip Morris USA Inc. v. Allen, May 10, 2013, Boyer T.).

Background. The personal representative, and spouse, of an estate of a smoker, Patricia Allen, who died from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) filed suit against two cigarette manufacturers—R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Philip Morris USA Inc.—for wrongful death. Following a jury trial, both cigarette manufacturers were found liable under theories of negligence; strict liability; fraudulent concealment of health effects and addictive nature of cigarette smoking; and conspiracy to conceal or omit relevant information concerning health effects or addictive nature of smoking cigarettes. The jury awarded the representatives $6 million in compensatory damages and $34 million in punitive damages. The trial court confirmed the compensatory damages awarded, but reduced the punitive damages to $8.1 million against R.J. Reynolds, and $2.7 million against Philip Morris.

On appeal, the manufacturers asserted, among other issues, that the trial court had erred in directing a verdict in favor of appellees on the issue of the appellee’s membership in the Engle class. The manufacturers argued that the trial court had essentially removed the "addiction causation" requirement from the class definition when it granted the motion and in its jury instructions. The appellate panel agreed, vacating the final judgment and remanding for a new trial.

Class membership. A class member under Engle is a citizen or resident of Florida, and their survivors, who have suffered, presently suffer, or have died from diseases and medical conditions caused by their addiction to cigarettes that contain nicotine. In order to take advantage of the res judicata effect of the Phase I Engle findings, a plaintiff must produce evidence establishing that he or she is a class member. In order to satisfy this requirement, plaintiffs must prove that the deceased party was addicted to defendants’ cigarettes containing nicotine, and that the addiction was the legal cause of the death. In this case, the manufacturers effectively argued that evidence was disputed on the issue of whether the deceased’s addiction had manifested itself prior to her COPD diagnosis in 1996 or had other factors affected her decision to smoke, such as weight loss or stress relief. Consequently, the directed verdict was not warranted.

The case number is 1D11-6061.

Attorneys: Robert B. Parrish (Moseley, Prichard, Parrish, Knight & Jones) and Gregory G. Katsas ( Jones Day) for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; Gary L. Sasso (Carlton Fields) and Dana G. Bradford, II, (Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP) for Philip Morris USA Inc.; Steven L. Brannock, (Brannock & Humphries); Gregory D. Prysock (Morgan & Morgan, P.A.) and Keith R. Mitnik (Morgan & Morgan, P.A.) for Allen

Companies: Philip Morris USA Inc.; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

MainStory: TopStory JurisdictionNews DesignManufacturingNews DamagesNews FloridaNews

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