Tag Archives: Engle case

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.”

Duh! story of the day. $23.6 billion judgement against RJ Reynolds unlikely to hold up


I talked about this in a post the other day. A jury last week awarded $23.6 camelbillion in punitive damages against RJ Reynolds in one of the thousands of Engle cases in Florida. I said that dollar amount would likely never hold up on appeal.

Well, sure enough, some legal experts have weighed in, saying it can’t possibly hold up, but it may not matter, because it might signal future huge punitive damages against RJR.

“Nobody thinks the $23 billion is going to remain,” said Richard Daynard, a law professor at Northeastern University and the chair of its Tobacco Products Liability Project.

Because of constitutional guarantees of due process, the Supreme Court has shown a reluctance to allow punitive damages that are far out of line with compensatory damages in the same case, he said. The court’s general guideline is that the ratio of punitive to compensatory damages should be below 10:1.

However, the compensatory damages in the case were roughly $16 million, which means, Daynard says, there could still be punitive damages up to $150 million.

“I worked with juries for several decades, and I cannot put my mind on what they are doing, but the Florida jury (in awarding a huge sum) seems to be sending a message,” said Duke’s Vidmar. “This is a statement from the jury that this was an outrageous behavior by the tobacco companies.

One thing I saw in this article, and something I have wondered about, is how much the tobacco industry has actually paid out in the Engle cases. The original class-action award was $145 billion, which was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court 8 years ago. Since then, RJ Reynolds has paid out $114 million in 15 resolved cases.  Another $180 million in damages are held up on appeal.

I also mentioned this in my my earlier post. These huge damages I think — eventually — will force RJ Reynolds to simply settle with the remaining defendants. Obviously $23.6 billion isn’t going to happen, but constant, never-ending $20 million here and $20 million there is going eat away at RJ. Might be better to just settle and get rid of the legal uncertainty.

“You’re going to have a lot more cases where juries could find themselves similarly outraged,” he said. “The reluctance of the tobacco companies to settle these cases, thinking they can handle the cases as a matter of course, may be a mistake,” Daynard said.


RJ Reynolds loses $23.6 billion jury judgement


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.

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.).


R.J. Reynolds quietly loses $37.5 million judgement


This story didn’t get as much attention as I would’ve have expected, I think because it’s actually becoming routine.

A jury last week awarded a family who lost their wife and mother to lung cancer in 1995 after years of smoking a $37.5 award from R.J. Reynolds.

This judgement is part of the old Engle Florida Supreme Court case. In that case, a huge class action settlement — $145 billion — was awarded to a number of smokers for the tobacco industry’s long and sordid history of lying about the addictiveness of nicotine and for marketing to kids.

The tobacco industry filed an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court and the court threw the award out. At the time — 2006 — it appeared to be a big victory for Big Tobacco, but it was a mixed ruling. The Supreme Court threw out the award, but did allow each of the plaintiffs to file individual lawsuits against the tobacco industry.

That has turned out to be a big deal. There were a total of 8,000 individual lawsuits filed in Florida as a result of the ruling, so Big Tobacco is constantly in court in Florida, and repeatedly losing jury awards. $37.5 million won’t break RJR, but multiply $37.5 million by 8,000 — now you’re hurting the industry … big time. So far, $360 million damages have been awarded as a result of the Engle ruling — nowhere near the original $145 billion number, but hurting the industry nonetheless (You know the biggest reason cigarettes are more expensive now than 10 years ago? It’s not cigarette taxes, it’s legal costs.)

R..J Reynolds tried to use the old hoary defence of “it was her choice to smoke,” but that defence has failed time and again in these jury awards, for two reasons A) Big Tobacco was knowingly selling a toxic, poisonous and physically addictive product .. and lied for decades about the addictive nature of nicotine, and B) Because of the industry’s long and sordid history of marketing to teens (R.J. Reynolds are the guys who invented Joe Camel, remember.). It’s interesting reading a lot of the comments on this story about what BS the ruling is because it was her choice to smoke. No, they don’t get it. That defence doesn’t carry much weight with juries or judges, the fact is because they lied and covered up the dangers of their product, the tobacco industry is still liable for damages … “it was their choice to smoke” isn’t going to work. I tried making that point on that thread at HP; I got a few likes but no responses.

The woman who died in this case — Laura Grossman — was only 38 when she died of lung cancer in 1995.

R.J. Reynolds (which makes Philip Morris look like choir boys by comparison sometimes) also made the absolutely despicable defence that Grossman’s death was her husband’s fault because he didn’t do more to make her quit.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company has appealed the verdict, claiming that Grossman’s husband, Jan Grossman, should be held responsible for Laura’s death for “failing to change another person’s course of conduct.” As part of the court ruling, Grossman’s husband and two children were also awarded $15 million in compensatory damages.

That just shows how utterly venal these guys are, especially R.J. Reynolds.

R.J. Reynolds will definitely appeal, the company always does. And they might get the award reduced; Big Tobacco has had some success there, but not as often as in the past.