Fla. Verdicts Trending Against Tobacco Companies

Florida juries are willing to buy the tobacco industry’s argument that smokers are partly to blame for their illness, but nonetheless are awarding large judgments against cigarette makers in product-liability lawsuits, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported April 5.

Some juries have decided that plaintiffs are up to two-thirds at fault for their smoking-related illnesses, but have also pinned blame on manufacturers based on their shady marketing practices, and have awarded punitive as well as compensatory damages against tobacco firms.

The result has been a rising number of multi-million-dollar judgments against tobacco companies: plaintiffs have won 11 of the first 13 decided cases stemming from Florida former class-action lawsuit against the industry, dubbed Engle after one of the original plaintiffs. The courts decertified the class action but have allowed individual plaintiffs to sue and use the findings from the original case to bolster their arguments before jurors.

“Finally, we’ve got juries who are looking and saying, ’This is really bad stuff you [tobacco companies] did, and yeah, yeah, they should have tried harder to quit or they shouldn’t have started, but the stuff you did is really, really bad,’” said tobacco control advocate Richard A. Daynard of Northeastern University in Boston.

There are about 9,500 individual claims still pending against the tobacco industry as a result of the Florida Supreme Court breaking up the Engle class-action suit. “There is no way we’re going to settle; we are going to fight all these,” said Murray R. Garnick, a vice president at Altria, which includes Philip Morris. “I think the public believes that people who choose to smoke cigarettes do so as a matter of their own choice, fully aware of the risks. They’ve been the subject of package warnings for 40 years and societal concern for decades longer. It is difficult to identify a product whose risks are more well known than cigarettes.”

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