Fla. court says $79M tobacco award too much

By John O'Brien | Apr 10, 2012


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - A Florida appellate court has vacated a nearly $80 million verdict in one of a long line of tobacco lawsuits created by a state Supreme Court ruling.

The state's First District Court of Appeal did not overturn a Levy County jury's finding that R.J. Reynolds was partly liable for the death of James Cayce Horner, but did rule that a $79.2 million damages award was excessive.

The jury awarded $7.2 million in compensatory damages and $72 million in punitive damages.

"Although not determinative, the fact that the jury awarded double the amount of compensatory damages requested by (Plaintiff's) counsel and assigned to Mr. Horner half of the percentage of fault her counsel acknowledged during closing argument suggests the jury was influenced by prejudice or passion," says the decision, authored by Chief Judge Robert Benton.

Benton wrote that the compensatory damages award is more than the evidence presented can support. Because the compensatory damages must be vacated, so too must the punitives.

The court ordered a new trial on damages only.

Diane Webb had filed the lawsuit on behalf of Horner, her father. It was part of a group of lawsuits created by the state Supreme Court's 2006 decision in Engle v. Liggett Group.

The decision overturned a $145 billion punitive damages award for a class of smokers suing the tobacco industry but allowed members of the class to file their lawsuits individually.

Before a deadline, 4,500 suits were brought on behalf of those who died from a tobacco-related diseased or suffered from one before Nov. 21, 1996.

Recently, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear R.J. Reynolds' appeal of a $28.3 million verdict. The issue in that case was whether the plaintiff belonged to the Engle class.

From Legal Newsline: Reach John O'Brien by e-mail at jobrienwv@gmail.com.

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