$1.3M Verdict Against Big Tobacco Upheld in Florida

big tobaccoA Florida appeals court has upheld a judgment for a smoker’s estate in an Engle progeny case, rejecting arguments by Big Tobacco that federal law implicitly preempts relevant state-law tort claims and what the companies described as an effective ban on selling cigarettes, according to Law360.

Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal upheld a jury verdict for James H. Lourie, the personal representative of the estate of Barbara Ruth Lourie. He argued that cigarette makers Philip Morris USA Inc. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. concealed the dangers of smoking while furthering his wife’s addiction, causing the lung cancer that led to her death in 1997. A jury awarded the family more than $1.3 million in 2014.

On appeal, the tobacco companies argued that Lourie’s negligence and strict liability claims should be preempted by federal law that prohibits states from banning cigarette sales, saying earlier findings in the Engle case amount to a ban on selling cigarettes.

However, the panel ruled on August 10, 2016 that this argument is barred by principles of res judicata, because the Florida Supreme Court already rejected the argument when hearing the case as a class action. Also, the federal preemption arguments were wrong because federal law does not prohibit states from banning cigarette sales and earlier case findings do not amount to a ban on all cigarettes, the panel said.