As reported by Law360 (subscription required), the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a $2.12M verdict against the tobacco company R.J. Reynolds in favor of a smoker’s widow. The three judge panel also said she was entitled to a new trial on punitive damages in her Engle progeny case, that is, a trial that would only concern the amount of damages to be assessed, with the underlying judgment of RJ Reynolds’ guilt and responsibility carrying through from the previous trial. The decision is being viewed as a significant victory for the plaintiff.

Charles Sowers died in 1995 from lung cancer and in 2015, a Florida federal jury found R.J. Reynolds legally responsible in one of “thousands” of Engle progeny cases filed after the Florida Supreme Court in Engle v. Liggett Group Inc. overturned a $145 billion verdict for plaintiffs and decertified a class of Florida residents who had become sick or died from smoking, but allowed the individual plaintiffs to bring individual actions against the tobacco company without having to re-try the judgment finding R.J. Reynolds legally responsible for the tobacco-related injuries.

The judicial panel deciding the appeal was forthright in its criticism of Reynolds. In the wake of the tobacco giant’s arguing that the remanded trial must start from scratch (removing the previous finding of Reynolds’ liability/legal responsibility), the panel opined: “Actually, what the company wants to do is pressure the elderly widow, whose husband its products killed, out of exercising her right to seek punitive damages from it for that.” The first jury found Charles Sowers did become addicted to smoking cigarettes which resulted in his death from lung cancer, making him a member of the Engel Progeny class. However, the issue of whether or not the tobacco company intentionally knew it carried out wrongful conduct and continued on is still to be determined, which is what a remand jury will have to find in order to award punitive damages.

Andrew Kaufman of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP, who successfully briefed Sowers’ appeal, told Law360 he was “pleased with the ruling and looks forward to pursuing punitive damages against R.J. Reynolds.”

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.

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