Florida Supreme Court Denies Petition for Review in Engle-Progeny Tobacco Case, Parker Waichman LLP Announces

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Cigarette maker’s petition denied on September 9, 2014, further strengthening Engle-Progeny fight against Big Tobacco.

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“We are pleased with the Florida Supreme Court’s decision ... and believe the continued denials send a clear message to the Tobacco Industry that the verdicts reached are appropriate..." said Jordan Chaikin of Parker Waichman LLP

On September 9, 2014, the Florida Supreme Court denied a petition made by Lorillard Tobacco Company for discretionary review of the Third District Court of Appeal’s decision in Lorillard Tobacco Co. v. Alexander, No. 3D12-1593 (Fla. 3d DCA Sept. 4, 2013). The lawsuit was brought by Dorothy Alexander, individually and as the Personal Representative of the Estate of Coleman Alexander in state court in Miami-Dade County by Jordan Chaikin of Parker Waichman LLP along with co-counsel Alex Alvarez of The Alvarez Law Firm; Gary Paige of Gordon & Doner, P.A.; John Mills of The Mills Law Firm; and Robert Glazier of the Law Office of Robert S. Glazier.

The Alexander case is part of what is considered the third round in Florida’s “Engle litigation,” which was originally filed in 1994 (Case No.: SC03-1856; Florida Supreme Court). The litigation involves thousands of individual lawsuits brought against cigarette companies. According to a June 9, 2014 ScotusBlog report, the lawsuits are believed to be more effectively resolvable individually because of the way in which the Court originally created the plan regarding the way in which the cases would be tried. The 1994 Engle case involved six individuals and eight claims of injustices allegedly conducted by tobacco firms against smokers. Allegations ranged from fraud claims to claims that cigarettes are inherently dangerous due to their flawed designs.

In this case, following a three-week trial, the jury found in favor of Mrs. Alexander on her claims against Lorillard for strict liability, fraudulent concealment, conspiracy to commit fraud by concealment, and negligence and awarded Mrs. Alexander $20 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages. The Court wrote, “Because we find Lorillard’s multiple arguments on appeal without merit; the remitted compensatory damages award in the amount of $10 million and the punitive damages award in the amount of $25 million are neither excessive nor unconstitutional; and the compensatory and punitive damages awards are supported by the manifest weight of the evidence, we affirm.”

The lawsuit was filed based on the death of Coleman Alexander due to smoking-related lung cancer. Coleman told his wife that “he believed smoking, particularly smoking filtered cigarettes, was safe and that he did not think the tobacco companies would make a product that would kill people … that he had switched to Lorillard’s Kent cigarettes in 1958 because he believed they were safer than other brands because of their filter design.” Despite later, multiple attempts to quit smoking, he was unable due to his addiction to cigarettes, according to the lawsuit. Coleman died at the age of 59.

“We are pleased with the Florida Supreme Court’s decision to deny certiorari in the Alexander case and believe the continued denials send a clear message to the Tobacco Industry that the verdicts reached are appropriate and further review is not required.” said Jordan Chaikin, a Managing Partner at Parker Waichman LLP.

Engle was originally filed as a nationwide class action on behalf of smokers who either suffered from, or died from, a smoking-related disease. The litigation was reduced to cover a class in Florida and was further reduced so as not to be a class action at all. Engle was ultimately broadened into the thousands of individual trials it represents today—the so-called “third round,” according to the ScotusBlog report. Notably, in the first case, the Florida courts created a legal plan under which the original case would be the one in which findings of fact and findings of legal liability would be developed for all smokers and all types of cigarettes. This plan would become binding in later cases. The second round was meant to decide questions of liability for three of the class’s representatives, as well as a question of punitive damages for the entire class.

The original Engle jury awarded the class $145 in punitive damages; the award and class designation were both set aside by Florida’s Supreme Court. When the individual cases began to be tried in the third round, the original jury’s findings were binding. Following the state Supreme Court’s 2006 decision, over 9,000 individual claims were brought and, over the following seven years, the tobacco industry has sought to have the High Court both review the original Engle decision and Engle’s “progeny” lawsuits that followed, according to ScotusBlog. The Court continually denies these requests.

Parker Waichman LLP is a leading personal injury law firm that represents plaintiffs nationwide. The firm has offices in New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Washington, D.C. For more than two decades, Parker Waichman LLP has assisted thousands of clients in receiving fair compensation for injuries resulting from defective drugs, medical devices, and other products, including cigarette and tobacco products. Free case evaluations are also available by calling 1 800 LAW INFO (1-800-529-4636).

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Gary Falkowitz
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