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February 13, 2009

Florida Jury: Smoker Was Addicted

In the latest chapter in the long-running Engle tobacco litigation saga that began in 1994, a Florida jury has found that Stuart Hess, a 40-year chain smoker who died in 1997, was helplessly addicted to nicotine as a result of deceptive practices by Philip Morris that hid the dangers of smoking, including the danger of addiction.  In Engle v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., a Miami jury found way back in 1999 that smoking caused 20 diseases and that five cigarette manufacturers, individually and in conspiracy with each other and two trade groups that they had established, committed a variety of torts including fraud and fraudulent concealment.  This finding followed the trial court's class certification on behalf of all Florida smokers and their families.  A $145 billion punitive damages award followed in 2000.  In July 2006, the Florida Supreme Court ordered that the punitive damages award be vacated and the class de-certified but that members of the de-certified class members could file individual claims within one year of the de-certification.  The court also ruled that several important findings from the first phase of litigation were entitled to "res judicata" effect, including the addiction, smoking-causes-cancer, and fraudulent concealment findings.

Hess's suit is the first of about 8000 pending cases to go to trial since those 2006 developments.  The case was delayed once due to flooding last year at the Broward County courthouse and then again last December when a mistrial was declared after a witness used a racial epithet.  But the trial finally got underway on February 4th, the addiction determination is now complete, and the fault and compensatory damages phase, in which Hess's lawyers will presumably ask for millions of dollars, has begun.  A third, punitive damages, phase of the trial could follow.


February 13, 2009 | Permalink


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