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Supreme Court To Take Up Tobacco Damages Dispute

Warning label on cigarettes
Wikimedia Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to take up a case in which an appeals court rejected a $30 million punitive-damages award against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co, according to an online docket. 

The Broward County lawsuit, filed by the widow of late smoker James Schoeff, is part of thousands of what are known as "Engle progeny" cases filed in Florida against tobacco companies.

Those cases are linked to a 2006 Supreme Court ruling that established critical findings about the health dangers of smoking and misrepresentation by cigarette makers.

In the Schoeff case, a jury ruled against R.J. Reynolds and set compensatory damages at $10.5 million and punitive damages at $30 million.

The compensatory damages amount was reduced to $7.875 million because Schoeff was found to be 25 percent at fault for his lung cancer and death. The 4th District Court of Appeal last year ordered reconsideration of the award of $30 million in punitive damages, which would top the previous high of $25 million in Engle cases.

Attorneys for Schoeff's widow, Joan, asked the Supreme Court to take up issues related to the compensatory and punitive damages. In a brief filed in December, for example, they raised questions about limits on punitive damages in Engle cases.

"As Engle progeny cases involve the same general defense conduct, a brightline cap may be defensible, but it should be tied to the plaintiff's damages and not an arbitrary across-the-board cap of $25 million,'' the brief said. As is common, the Supreme Court on Thursday did not immediately set a date for oral arguments.