MIAMI (Legal Newsline) -- A Florida appeals court this week denied a tobacco company's request for a new trial in a lawsuit brought against the company by the widow of a former smoker.
Also Wednesday, Florida's Third District Court of Appeal upheld a $33 million award to the widow, Dorothy Alexander, saying the damages were not excessive.
After a three-week trial, the jury found in favor of Alexander on her claims against Lorillard Tobacco Company for strict liability, fraudulent concealment, conspiracy to commit fraud by concealment and negligence, but found Alexander's husband, Coleman, 20 percent comparatively liable.
The jury awarded Alexander $20 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages.
Lorillard filed multiple post-trial motions, including motions seeking remittitur of the compensatory and punitive damages awards.
The Miami-Dade County Circuit Court denied all of Lorillard's post-trial motions except the motion for remittitur of the compensatory damages award and remitted the compensatory damages award to $10 million.
After computation of comparative fault, Alexander was awarded $8 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages, which the trial court declined to remit.
On appeal, the tobacco company basically reiterated its post-trial claims of error. Additionally, it claimed that it is entitled to a new trial on compensatory damages rather than the remittitur that it sought and received post-trial.
The appeals court, in its 32-page opinion, ruled that the remitted compensatory damages award and the punitive damages award are neither excessive nor unconstitutional, and the damages awards are "supported by the manifest weight of the evidence."
A three-judge panel of the court -- Chief Judge Linda Ann Wells, Judge Leslie B. Rothenberg and Senior Judge Alan R. Schwartz -- said the record is "replete with evidence" of the company's conduct, which the jury and the trial court could find "sufficiently reprehensible" to warrant the imposition of sanctions in the form of the $25 million punitive damages award.
"The plaintiff provided more than sufficient evidence to show Lorillard's conduct, both individually and as a member of the tobacco industry, of continuous, repeated and aggressive attempts to discredit the scientific research revealing the harmful and addictive nature of cigarettes and to cast doubt on the validity of the scientific research by mounting advertising and public relations campaigns," Rothenberg wrote for the panel.
"The plaintiff similarly provided evidence of more than a half-century of Lorillard's reckless disregard of the scientific findings and of its indifference to the potential physical harm to consumers caused by its product for its own purely economic gain."
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.