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From Products Liability Law Daily, September 5, 2013

Florida appeals court affirms $33 million damage award against tobacco company

By Kathleen Bianco, J.D.

A punitive damage award of $25 million against a cigarette manufacturer was not excessive, the Third District Court of Appeal for the State of Florida ruled (Lorillard Tobacco Company v. Alexander, September 4, 2013, Rothenberg, L.). Additionally, the court affirmed the reduced compensatory damage award of $10 million concluding that the manufacturer was estopped from arguing for a new trial based on the compensatory damages because it had not objected to the reduced amount when it had been awarded by the lower court.

Background. Lorillard Tobacco Company appealed a final judgment entered against it following a jury verdict in favor of Dorothy Alexander, individually and as personal representative of the estate of Coleman Alexander. Mrs. Alexander filed suit against Lorillard following the death of her husband, Coleman, from smoking-related lung cancer. Based on the testimony presented along with Mr. Alexander’s designation as an Engle class member (Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 (Fla. 2006)) and Lorillard’s classification as one of the tobacco industry Engle defendants, the jury found in favor of Mrs. Alexander, awarded compensatory damages in the amount of $20 million and punitive damages in the amount of $25 million. Lorillard filed motions seeking remittitur of the compensatory and punitive damages. The lower court reduced the compensatory damages to $10 million, but declined to reduce the punitive damages. Lorillard appealed, claiming it was entitled to a new trial on the awarded damages.

Compensatory damages. The tobacco company’s claim that it was entitled to a new trial on the issue of compensatory damages was rejected. Under Florida statute, a trial court is responsible for reviewing the amount of an award and determining if it is excessive or inadequate. Upon the tobacco company’s request, the court determined that the compensatory damages were excessive and issued a remittitur, reducing the compensatory award from $20 million to $10 million. Because the manufacturer requested and was granted a reduction and failed to object to the remitted amount or request a new trial at the time the remitted amount was awarded, the court concluded that the tobacco company was not entitled to a new trial on the damages. Furthermore, the court held that the remitted compensatory damages were not excessive. Consequently, the manufacturer was liable for compensatory damages of $10 million, which was further reduced to $8 million after computation of comparative fault.

Punitive damages. The manufacturer challenged the punitive damages award, arguing that it was based on the actions of other tobacco companies, was excessive, and fueled by prejudice or passion in light of the excessive compensatory jury award. The court denied the tobacco company’s claim, finding that the punitive damages were based on the tobacco company’s own conduct and participation as a co-conspirator, were not excessive, and were within the acceptable ratio to the compensatory damages award. Accordingly, the $25 million punitive damages award was upheld.

The case number is 3D12-1593.

Attorneys: Elliot H. Scherker (Greenberg Traurig, P.A.) for Lorillard Tobacco Company. Robert S. Glazier (Law Offices of Robert S. Glazier), John S. Mills (The Mills Firm), Alex Alvarez (The Alvarez Law Firm), Jordan Chaikin (Parker Waichman LLP), Gary Paige (Gordon & Doner, P.A.) for Alexander.

Companies: Lorillard Tobacco Company

MainStory: TopStory DamagesNews EvidentiaryNews TobaccoProductsNews FloridaNews

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