Florida Appeals Court Affirms Jury Decision in Wrongful Death Case Against Tobacco Companies: Philip Morris USA Inc. v. Buchanan

Florida’s First District Court of Appeals has affirmed a wrongful death judgment entered against two tobacco companies. In Philip Morris USA Inc. v. Buchanan, the personal representative of a deceased man sued both Philip Morris and the Liggett Group over her husband’s wrongful death. After jurors entered judgment against the defendant tobacco companies, the businesses appealed the decision to the First District Court of Appeal.

According to the tobacco companies, the lower court should not have limited their access to cross-examine the man’s wife regarding the brand of cigarettes he smoked at trial. Since the defendant tobacco companies stipulated that the decedent only infrequently smoked other brands of cigarettes, the appeals court found that the trial court appropriately exercised its discretion when it limited cross-examination regarding the matter. The court added that the decision to limit cross-examination related to the issue served to limit confusion. Additionally, since the tobacco companies were permitted to discuss inconsistencies between the woman’s sworn testimony and her other evidentiary statements, Florida’s First District held that cross-examination was not required for impeachment purposes.

Next, the appeals court addressed the defendants’ claim that a particular jury instruction was improperly denied. According to the tobacco companies, the trial court committed error when it refused to provide jurors with a proposed jury instruction on the statute of repose. After stating the proffered instruction for jurors was not an accurate statement of the law, the appellate court dismissed the defendants’ argument. Finally, the Florida court rejected the defendants’ assertion that Florida Supreme Court and other precedent barred the woman’s wrongful death claim and certified that its decision conflicted with an earlier decision entered by Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals. In June 2013, however, the Supreme Court of Florida agreed to review that appellate court decision.

In Florida, a personal representative may file a wrongful death lawsuit when an individual dies due to the negligent or intentional act of another party. A wrongful death may be caused by medical malpractice, a motor vehicle collision, a defective consumer product, and other factors. Although no amount of money can make up for the loss of a beloved family member, a Florida wrongful death claim is designed to provide financial compensation for the spouse, children, and others who depended on a deceased person for support. Potential damages include loss of income, loss of companionship, pain and suffering, and more. A Florida court may also choose to award punitive damages designed to punish a bad actor for particularly egregious conduct and deter similar acts in the future.

If you lost a loved one in South Florida as a result of another person’s negligent or intentional act, you should retain an experienced personal injury lawyer to advocate on your behalf and help you protect your rights. To speak with a hardworking wrongful death attorney, please contact Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. through our website or give us a call at (305) 448-8585.

Additional Resources:

Philip Morris USA Inc. v. Buchanan, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 1st Dist. 2014

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