July 7, 2006
Florida Punitives Verdict Reversed
The Florida Supreme Court yesterday reversed [PDF] a $145 billion-with-a-b punitive damage award against various tobacco companies. The opinion is long and fractured; the key conclusions appear to be that the punitive damage award was excessive and that the class should not have been certified in the first place. $1 million-plus verdicts were upheld for individual class members, and all class members have the opportunity to go back and file individual cases.
The court's discussion of improper (but not quite reversible, evidently) argument is worth reading; it starts around page 39 of the PDF. Among the objectionable arguments was this, in response to the defense lawyer arguing that there are two sides to every story:
Are there two sides to every question? And the immediate gut reaction is: Yeah, yeah. You want to be fair and you say: Right, there’s two sides to every question. What’s the other side to the Holocaust? What is the other side to slavery?
Over an objection, the plaintiffs' lawyer continued, in a "being legal doesn't make it right" theme, with this:
Let’s discuss the concept of legal in the context of America. I noticed in last week’s newspaper, Rosa Parks, who is 86 yCongressional Gold Medal because in 1955 . . . .
We look back in history. We look back in history. The whole civil rights movement of the ’60s was fightKing was arrested in the ’60s . . . .
In this building, in this building, a temple to the law, they were—there were drinking fountains which said Whites Only.
While the Supreme Court condemns this argument, ultimately it concludes that it (and other argument) doesn't warrant reversal.
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