Supreme court refuses tobacco firm appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court will not review a USD 28.3 million (EUR 21.3 million) wrongful death verdict against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, declining to consider legal questions that may affect thousands of similar cases by smokers and their families.

The court today left intact the verdict in a case filed in the wake of a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision that lets plaintiffs in cigarette-liability suits use factual findings by a jury in an earlier case to prove their claims, reports Bloomberg Businessweek.
Reynolds, Altria Group and other U.S. cigarette makers claim Florida trial judges are applying the findings too broadly, depriving them of their right to defend themselves in court. “The Florida state courts are engaged in serial due- process violations that threaten the defendants with literally billions of dollars of liability,” Reynolds said in a brief seeking review by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Reynolds, the second-biggest U.S. tobacco company, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a case in which a Pensacola jury in 2009 awarded USD 3.3 million in compensatory damages and USD 25 million in punitive damages to Mathilde Martin, whose husband, Benny, died of lung cancer at age 66 after smoking Camel and Lucky Strike cigarettes for most of his life. An intermediate Florida appeals court upheld the verdict and the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
In its 2006 ruling, known as the Engle decision, Florida’s highest court decertified a statewide class action and threw out a USD 145 billion punitive damage verdict against the industry. At the same time, the court endorsed many jury findings in the case, including that the companies were negligent, conspired to hide information about the dangers of smoking and sold defective products. (pi)

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