Category Archives: Florida

Breaking: Big Tobacco companies agree to $100 million settlement of Engle cases

Howard Engle
Howard Engle


Breaking news!

RJ Reynolds, Lorillard and Philip Morris have reached a $100 million settlement of 400  Engle cases in Florida. I thought they might do this. I’ve been writing for months that, every way I cut it, it was in their interest to do this.

The Engle (named after Howard Engle, a smoker who died several years ago) cases came from a Florida Supreme Court decision throwing out a $145 billion class-action judgement against Big Tobacco for its years of lies and cover-ups over the dangers of smoking. However, while throwing those cases out, the state Supreme Court opened the way for individual plaintiffs to file separate lawsuits against Big Tobacco.

Since then, literally thousands of lawsuits have been filed in Florida and Big Tobacco has been losing about two-thirds of these cases, with hundreds of millions of judgements awarded in favour of over a hundred plaintiffs. Most of those judgements have been upheld on appeal.

Rather than go through at least another decade of losing these cases (not to mention all the legal fees), I figured sooner or later, Big Tobacco was simply going to settle.

This settlement involves 400 cases filed in federal court. That’s $250,000 per plaintiff. I’m guessing there’s going to be more settlements, because I believe there’s several thousand more lawsuits ongoing, and that a lot of them are in state courts. So this settlement may have solely been to deal with the federal cases. And in fact, the NBC story is careful to say “it’s the first settlement by Big Tobacco to settle a chunk of Engle cases.”

Under the agreement, Lorillard will pay $15 million, while RJR and Philip Morris will each pay $42.5 million. This settlement won’t affect cases that have already been settled.

Great news for these families devastated by smoking! I’ll be keeping an eye out for future Engle settlements in Florida.





RJ Reynolds punitive damages reduced from $23 billion to $16.9 million


This was entirely predictable. A Florida jury, in one of the thousands of Engle progeny cases, recently awarded a punitive judgement against RJ Reynolds for $23 billion because a widow’s husband died from smoking cigarettes.

I hate RJ Reynolds as much as the next guy, but I knew that no way would this judgement stand up to appeal. It was much too excessive. Sure enough, on appeal, a judge lowered the judgement to less than 1 percent of the original figure.

From the story:

 “That award is admittedly and clearly constitutionally excessive,” said Circuit Court Judge Terry Terrell said. He said awarding an equal amount in compensatory and punitive damages “is reasonable and just.”

It’s a fair judgement, the widow has also received compensatory damages of $16.9 million. Terrell gave her the same amount in punitive damages (Frankly, I would’ve liked to have seen more than $16.9 million, but $23 billion was clearly ridiculous. Generally, punitive damages cannot be more than 10 times compensatory damages, which is why this was kind of a stupid decision by the jury; it could have resulted in the entire case being thrown out.)

Reynolds, cuddly teddy bear that it is, requested to have the judgement dismissed completely, but the judge rejected the company’s request. Of couse, RJ Reynolds is appealing the circuit judge’s opinion.

This part of the story is interesting, something I’ve been looking for. RJ Reynolds has already paid out $114 million in Engle case settlements the past few years, with another $217 million pending various appeals. That’s just RJ Reynolds, not Philip Morris or Lorillard or British American Tobacco. In all, 85 Engle cases have been decided in favour of the plaintiff and 40 in favour of Big Tobacco. You wonder at what point, the industry just says, “screw it,” and reaches a settlement with the several thousand Engle plaintiffs. Apparently, it is still worth the industry’s while financially to keep fighting these cases, but they are adding up.

Another Engle Case judgement — $17.3 million against Philip Morris


This is yet another in a long line (literally thousands) of Engle Case lawsuits in Florida. The Engle case was a Supreme Court decision that overturned a $145 billion class-action judgement against Big Tobacco, while at the same time allowing individual lawsuits against various tobacco companies to be filed. This opened up a floodgate of lawsuits and jury awards in the hundreds of millions (perhaps even billions by now, I don’t know if anyone is keeping track.)

According to Wikipedia, the tobacco industry has lost 77 of the 116 Engle cases that have gone to trial so far.

This case is in Jacksonville and the plaintiff is a 64-year-old woman’s whose legs were amputated due to vascular disease caused by 40-plus years of smoking. The jury found the plaintiff, Donna Brown, 45 percent to blame and Philip Morris 55 percent to blame for lying about and covering up the dangers of smoking and awarded Brown $9 million in punitive damages and $8.3 million in compensatory damages.

From the article:

“The jury recognized that every person has a right not to be hurt by the careless, intentional misconduct of another, and Donna was hurt very badly by Philip Morris’ reckless and intentional misconduct,” attorney Nathan Finch said Friday.

Brown was a Marlboro smoker, but she also occasionally smoked Winstons, made by RJ Reynolds, which apparently reached a settlement with her.

The woman tried to quit several times, using Chantix, nicotine patches, nicotine gum, even a hypnotist,  but nothing worked. She was not able to quit until she finally had a stroke in 2014 (Sounds like my mom, who kept smoking through cancer, heart attacks, chronic bronchities, etc., and only quit when she had a severe COPD episode.).

Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds lose another $41 million settlement, this one for giving a person COPD

camelTobacco giants Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds lost another major settlement this week in Florida.

This case is one of the thousands of Engle cases winding their way through the Florida courts. R.J. Reynolds will appeal this verdict (oh, yes they will) but several of these verdicts have been upheld by appeals courts.

The Engle cases stem from a huge $145 billion class-action judgement in 2000. In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court overturned that settlement, but made an important decision to allow individual lawsuits against tobacco companies. Since then, several thousand lawsuits have been filed against tobacco companies, primarily Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and Lorrilard, and judgements ranging between a few million to $23.6 billion have been handed down by juries (I believe that $23.6 billion judgement will get tossed on appeal as excessive … when I Googled it, Google asked me “do you mean $23.6 million?”).

According to the article:

Attorney Kenneth Byrd of the Nashville office of national plaintiffs’ law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, announced that a jury in federal court in Florida today returned a verdict of $41.1 million against Philip Morris USA Inc. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company for conspiring for decades to conceal the hazards of smoking and the addictive nature of cigarettes. The jury award consists of $15.8 million in compensatory damages and punitive damages in the amounts of $15.7 million against Philip Morris and $9.6 million against R.J. Reynolds.

“The cigarette industry argues that as Engle class members and their spouses die, their lawsuits die with them. We will continue working night and day to see that these class members get their day in Court.”

Interesting that was in federal court, I’m positive other Florida cases were in state courts.

This case is also a little unusual because most of these Engle cases at this point are being filed by relatives of people who died from lung cancer. This one was filed by the smoker, who is still alive and is suffering from COPD, not lung cancer. I believe that’s the first major judgement I’ve seen against a tobacco company for its role in giving a person COPD. I’m sure there’s been some, I just don’t remember ever coming across a story about it until now.

According to the article:

“At trial Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds sought to place all the blame on Mr. Kerrivan for becoming addicted to nicotine as a teenager in a time when the defendants widely marketed smoking cigarettes using celebrities and famous athletes and advertised on television shows popular with children and teenagers. Thankfully, the jury rejected this defense and held Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds accountable for their decision to target an entire generation of post-World War II American teenagers with a lifetime addiction to nicotine,” stated Mr. Byrd. “The cigarette industry argues that as Engle class members and their spouses die, their lawsuits die with them. We will continue working night and day to see that these class members get their day in Court.”

U.S. Supreme Court leaves Florida jury awards intact in Engle cases — this is a big deal

Howard Engle

This is a continuation of the long-running Engle case in Florida.

Many years ago, a jury issued a $145 billion class action judgement against Big Tobacco for knowingly selling a toxic, addictive product to people, and then lying about it. This came to be known as the Engle case ($110 million settlement reached by Liggett Group in Engle case) , named after Howard Engle, one of the main plaintiffs. The Florida Supreme Court  overturned that ruling several years ago, but made a subtle and very important ruling in favour of the plaintiffs that while they could not sue for class action damages, they could individually sue Big Tobacco for the effects of its lies and cover ups on them on their families.

Since then, there’s been literally hundreds of lawsuits filed against Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds and Lorillard and many judgements have been handed out in the millions of dolalrs.

R.J. Reynolds appealed a number of these judgements (RJR has always been the most aggressive company in fighting anti-tobacco court cases and laws), to the U.S. Supreme Court. The total amount of the judgements is about $70 million (the largest single judgement is $25 million). The U.S. Supreme Court categorically refused to hear their appeal, in effect letting the judgements stand.

So, another loss in the courts for Big Tobacco; this is not the area in which they’re going to win much anymore. There is simply too much documentation, much of it coming out through the discovery process in countless lawsuits over the years against Big Tobacco, of the industry’s lies, subterfuge and cover-ups. They were selling a poisonous product and were killing people and they knew it. The evidence is all there.

There are thousands of these cases that will be tied up in the courts in Florida for the next 10 to 20 years. Keep forcing those tobacco company to pay and keep forcing them to pour millions into their legal fees. (Passing on their costs to the consumers and encouraging more people to save money by quitting — seriously, one of the reasons cigarettes are so expensive today compared to 20 years ago is because of all the legal expenses and the $280 billion Master Settlement Agreement reached by Big Tobacco.).