Friday, November 27, 2009
Earlier this week, a Florida jury returned a $300 million verdict in Lucinda Naugle's individual lawsuit against Philip Morris. The jury awarded $56 million in compensatory damages plus $244 million in punitive damages. Here's a WSJ Health Blog post, as well as an editorial in today's NY Times urging that "There should be more lawsuits seeking not only monetary damages, but changes in how the tobacco industry markets its products."
The Naugle action is one of over 8000 post-Engle lawsuits in Florida. Engle was the massive statewide Florida class action against the tobacco industry that resulted in a 12-figure punitive damages verdict against the cigarette companies. When the Florida Supreme Court decertified the class in 2006, the classwide punitive damages verdict was lost, but the Florida Supreme Court held that the classwide factual findings would be given preclusive effect in subsequent individual trials. Thus, when Engle class members (Florida smokers) go to trial on cigarette claims, certain facts are already established without the need for new proof: that nicotine is addictive, that cigarettes cause certain diseases, that the tobacco companies knew of certain dangers but failed to disclose that information, and so on. The post-Engle individual lawsuits began to reach trial this year, and so far they have mostly resulted in big wins for plaintiffs.
As I commented on this blog nine months ago, if the post-Engle plaintiffs continue to win at this rate, it may turn out that the Florida Supreme Court's decertification of the class action -- which at the time seemed like an important victory for the tobacco industry -- was an even greater victory for tobacco plaintiffs.