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Health News Florida

Court Backs New Trial On Damages In Tobacco Case

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An appeals court Monday said the family of a dead smoker should receive a new trial on pain-and-suffering damages in a case against cigarette maker Philip Morris USA.

But a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal rejected arguments that the family of Norman Lamar Danielson should also receive a new trial on punitive damages. The Escambia County case is one of thousands filed against the tobacco industry in Florida. The cases — known as Engle progeny cases — stem from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court ruling that established critical findings about a series of issues including the dangers of smoking and misrepresentation by cigarette makers.

In the Danielson case, a jury awarded $25,000 in economic damages to Danielson's wife, zero pain-and-suffering damages and $325,000 in punitive damages, Monday's ruling said. It also awarded $100,000 each to Danielson's three children for pain and suffering — a type of damages more formally known as “non-economic” damages.

After the trial, the family's attorney sought changes in the verdict, in part because the parties had agreed that the economic damage amount should total $2.3 million. The circuit judge approved the higher amount of economic damages, which typically involve such things as lost wages, and ordered a new trial on the amounts of non-economic damages and punitive damages. The judge pointed to issues in the case that indicated possible jury prejudice against Danielson's wife.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court upheld the judge's decision to grant a new trial on pain-and-suffering damages.

“The trial court granted a new trial on non-economic damages because it found the jury's verdict both inadequate and against the manifest weight of the evidence,” said Monday's ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Timothy Osterhaus. “We see no abuse of discretion here.”

But the appeals court, by a 2-1 margin, rejected a new trial on punitive damages. Osterhaus and Judge Thomas Winokur were in the majority on the punitive-damages issue, while Judge Ross Bilbrey argued that a new trial should be held on punitive damages.