RJ Reynolds loses $23.6 billion jury judgement

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Wow, this is a big “wow.” A big wow that will likely get reduced upon appeal.

In one of the thousands of Engle liability cases in Florida, a jury awarded a settlement of $23.6 billion (yeah, billion) in favor of one of the 8,000 Engle plaintiffs. (The Engle decision was a Florida Supreme Court decision in 2006 overturning a $145 billion class action decision against Big Tobacco in favour of the plaintiffs. While the court upheld many of the merits of the case, it threw out the class action part of a lower court decision, meaning those 8,000 plaintiffs all have to sue individually.

So thousands of lawsuits in Florida have moved forward. This is by far the biggest jury judgement against R.J. Reynolds. The jury awarded $15 million in compensatory damages and $23.6 billion in punitive damages (to punish R.J. Reynolds for lying and covering up the true dangers of their product and the addictive nature of nicotine.). That’s one case … versus $145 billion for 8,000 plaintiffs.

Unfortunately, that punitive damage amount is so outrageous, I can’t imagine it will stand up to appeal. As much as I think it sends a message to the tobacco industry from the jury that “Wow, we really think you lied your asses off,” I don’t think it necessarily does a lot of good to make judgements so huge that they can’t possibly hold up. The tobacco industry has not been successful lately, especially in Florida, in winning these Engle cases, but they have been successful in dragging out appeals indefinitely. An appeal will be automatic in this case over such a large sum of money.

Anyway, there are literally hundreds more of these cases in Florida, and the tobacco industry has been consistently losing them, which is ultimately a good thing. I think ultimately, all these judgements will force RJ and Philip Morris to eventually settle with the thousands of Engle plaintiffs for an amount that for the tobacco industry will still be the “cost of doing business.” Because,  I figure even the tobacco industry has to get sick of constantly being in court all the time and constantly dealing with legal fees.

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