Is Big Tobacco Turning a Corner in Florida Smoking Litigation?

Earlier this month, LB colleague Nathan Koppel wrote a story about tobacco litigation in Florida.

While in much of the nation, Koppel wrote, smoking-related litigation has reduced to its embers, in Florida it’s on fire, largely due to a 2006 ruling from the Florida Supreme Court.

In that case, the Florida Supreme Court decided that the factual findings made by the jury in a case involving a plaintiff named Howard Engle would be binding in future smoking cases heard in Florida. Among the findings: tobacco companies sold cigarettes that were “defective” and “unreasonably dangerous” and concealed the dangers of smoking.

So the cases — the so-called “Engle progeny” cases — would be slam dunks for the plaintiffs, right?

Well, not exactly. Over at the American Lawyer, Andrew Longstreth writes that “tobacco defendants have won the last five Engle trials.” Asks Longstreth: “Who’s afraid of Florida state court? Not Big Tobacco.”

The rulings represent a late reversal of fortune for tobacco defendants. Longstreth writes that plaintiffs have won 19 of 26 Engle progeny cases.

The recent wins haven’t kept the industry from bemoaning the Engle ruling. According to Longstreth, Philip Morris Associate General Counsel Murray Garnick continues to complain about the Engle progeny litigation, in which tobacco companies face about 4,000 cases.

“In all these cases, the trial courts violated Florida law and due process by allowing the plaintiffs to rely on general findings from a previous jury with no connection to the specific circumstances of these cases,” Garnick said in a statement.

Nevertheless, Philip Morris doesn’t intend to back down. Spokesman Callahan told the American Lawyer that the company plans to continue to vigorously defend every case that comes to trial.


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