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Florida Supreme Court Denies Big Tobacco’s Appeal

07/20/2011
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The Florida Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal yesterday made by RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. following a $28.3 million jury verdict in 2009.   The court upheld the verdict in a one-page order, denied jurisdiction, and noted, “no motion for rehearing will be entertained by the Court.”  RJ Reynolds had claimed that the lower court improperly applied the famous Engle decision.

That decision involved Howard A. Engle, M.D. who was a Florida Pediatrician and died in 2009 as a result of lung cancer.  Dr. Engle was the lead plaintiff in the Florida tobacco class action.  A jury awarded the class $145 billion in punitive damages; however, the Florida Supreme Court rejected and ruled that the case could not continue as a class.  Nevertheless, the decision upheld the factual findings in the case and said the findings would apply in all of the subsequent cases filed by smokers who were part of the class. Those smokers are now proceeding with individual lawsuits called “Engle progeny cases”.

The decision that was denied appeal yesterday was made by a Pensacola jury who awarded widow, Mathilde Martin $3.3 million in compensatory and $25 million in punitive damages.  Her husband, Benny Martin, died in 1995 of lung cancer following his long-time smoking addiction to “Lucky Strike” cigarettes.  The jury found RJ Reynolds 66 percent responsible and Benny 34 percent responsible.

The jury determined in the Martin case:

  1. smoking cigarettes caused a variety of health problems,
  2. cigarettes containing nicotine were addictive,
  3. the defendants manufactured unreasonably dangerous cigarettes, and
  4. the defendants concealed important information from the public.

Mathilde Martin’s attorney, Matt Schultz, stated, “today the Florida Supreme Court sent a message to Big Tobacco that the era of endless appeals is over. The industry must now answer for its decades-long conspiracy to defraud the public in pursuit of the almighty dollar.”

The Engle progeny cases are unique from most tobacco related lawsuits in the past. The plaintiffs in these cases were people who began smoking and became addicted to cigarettes before the 1960’s Report of the Surgeon General relating to the dangers of cigarettes.

Many of these people began their addiction as a result of cigarettes given away free on street corners by tobacco companies; many were in the military during WWII and started smoking the free cigarettes given to servicemen and women by tobacco companies; and many simply started smoking because everyone seemed to be doing it. Tobacco companies ran advertisements with the rich and famous promoting the positive health and social effects of smoking cigarettes.  Actors, actresses, sports heroes and doctors were used in advertisements telling people that smoking cigarettes was good for them.

It seems as if it has been several decades ago that people learned of the addictiveness and harmful effects of smoking cigarettes. It is true that the Surgeon General issued his warning in the early 1960’s, but as late as 1994, tobacco companies still maintained that cigarettes and nicotine were not addictive. In this video, the seven CEO’s of tobacco companies testified under oath that nicotine was not addictive. These CEO’s became known as “the seven dwarves”:

In fact, tobacco lawyers still, today, come into courtrooms across Florida and the nation claiming that cigarettes are not addictive.

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