Florida Appeals Court Orders New Trial Following Multi-Million Dollar Judgment Against Tobacco Companies

In RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Calloway, several tobacco companies filed an appeal following a multi-million dollar judgment that was entered against them in Florida. In the case, the defendants faced claims of negligence, strict liability, fraudulent concealment, and conspiracy to commit fraud, brought by the estate of a man who died from health complications that were apparently caused by his cigarette addiction. Following trial, the jury ultimately determined the deceased man, who began smoking at age 15, was 20.5 percent responsible for his own death.

On appeal to Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal, the defendants claimed a new trial was warranted because the plaintiff’s attorney made repeated inflammatory statements in front of jurors. Additionally, the tobacco companies argued the trial court committed error when it instructed the jury regarding the estate’s fraud claims and entered a joint and several final judgment that potentially held each company accountable for the entirety of the jury award. The defendants also asserted that the jury’s compensatory and punitive damages awards should have been reduced or set aside by the lower court, and their right to due process was violated. In response to the tobacco companies’ appeal, the plaintiff claimed the trial court committed error when it sustained several of the defendants’ objections regarding statements made by the estate’s lawyer.

After examining the evidence presented to the jury, the Florida appellate court stated that counsel for the estate made a number of improper remarks that created the potential for error. Despite this, the Court of Appeal declined to reverse the judgment on this issue because the lower court properly sustained the defendants’ objections and diligently instructed jurors to ignore the remarks.

Next, the Court of Appeal ruled that the trial court’s decision not to utilize a reliance instruction that was proposed by the defendants regarding the fraudulent concealment claims merited reversal. The court stated that the detrimental reliance aspect of the defendants’ requested jury instructions was an essential element of the estate’s fraudulent concealment claim. Likewise, the appellate court also held the jury instructions did not properly address the essential elements of the estate’s conspiracy to commit fraudulent concealment claims. Since the appellate court reversed the jury’s award on two claims on which punitive damages were assessed, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal stated it was required to reverse the punitive damages award.

Finally, the Court of Appeal reversed the lower court’s judgment in part and remanded the case for a new trial on the fraudulent concealment and conspiracy to commit fraudulent concealment claims, as well as the plaintiff’s entitlement to recover punitive damages.

If you were injured or lost a treasured loved one due to a product manufacturer’s negligence, you should contact a skillful personal injury attorney as soon as you are able.   To discuss your right to recover damages with a hardworking South Florida personal injury lawyer today, call the caring advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. at (305) 448-8585 or contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Calloway, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 4th Dist. 2016

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Jury’s Pain and Suffering Award Upheld Following Miami-Dade County Car Accident, January 7, 2016, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

Florida Appeals Court Remands Wrongful Death Lawsuit Filed Against Ship Owners for a New Trial, January 4, 2016, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

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