Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog
Cigarette butt on abstract background.

Supreme Court Declines to Hear R.J. Reynolds’ Appeal of Tobacco Injury Liability Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to consider R.J. Reynolds’ appeal of a ruling from the 11th Circuit that federal law does not prevent smokers from using the watershed Engle tobacco injury case to bring allegations of negligence and strict liability. The Court’s refusal to hear the appeal leaves standing the lower court’s finding that plaintiffs can rely on the verdict in Engle v. Liggett Group Inc. to establish claims of negligence and strict liability.

As Law360 (subscription) observed, “The decision leaves in place the reversal by the appeals court, sitting en banc, of an earlier panel ruling that found Earl Graham, whose wife Faye died of smoking-related lung cancer and was part of the original Engle class, could not use the jury’s findings in Engle to establish strict liability and negligence claims.” The jury in Engle held that smoking causes certain diseases, and that tobacco companies have worked to hide disease risks related to smoking.

Lieff Cabraser partner Kenny Byrd represented Graham, and stated, “Today was a small measure of justice for [Faye Graham’s] family in finally getting tobacco to pay up for what it did. As a result of the Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari, we are hopeful that other families of deceased smokers will soon also receive some measure of justice for the terrible losses they suffered.”

Previously, the district court held that Graham could rely on the Engle findings in his claim, leading to a $2.75 million jury award (later reduced) against R.J. Reynolds and an award of $275,000 against Philip Morris. Thereafter, however, a Circuit Court panel ruled that such an approach unfairly imposed an improper duty on cigarette manufacturers that it claimed ran afoul of consumers’ rights to decide to smoke. The Eleventh Circuit reheard the case, ultimately deciding that Florida could properly assign tort liability to the manufacturers, and that the trial was fair and proper.

Read the full article on Law360 (subscription).

National Tobacco Injury Attorneys

Lieff Cabraser represents Florida smokers, and the spouses and families of loved ones who died, in litigation against the tobacco companies for their 50-year conspiracy to conceal the hazards of smoking and the addictive nature of cigarettes.

On February 25th, 2015, a settlement was reached on behalf of more than 400 Florida smoker lawsuits against the major cigarette companies Philip Morris USA Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and Lorillard Tobacco Company. As a part of the settlement, the companies will collectively pay $100 million to injured smokers or their families.

Lieff Cabraser attorneys tried over 20 cases in Florida federal court against the tobacco industry on behalf of individual smokers or their estates, and with co-counsel obtained over $105 million in judgments for our clients. Two of the jury verdicts Lieff Cabraser attorneys obtained in the litigation were ranked by The National Law Journal among the Top 100 Verdicts of 2014.

The case is In re Engle Cases, No. 3:09-cv-10000-J-32 JBT (M.D. Fl.).