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Court Upholds $12M In Punitive Damages In Tobacco Case

p1 lawyer
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Rejecting arguments by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company that the amount was “excessive,” a state appeals court Friday upheld a jury's award of $12.36 million in punitive damages in a smoking-related death.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal sided with Cindy Evers, whose late mother, Jacqueline Loyd, suffered from lung cancer, the ruling said. The wrongful-death case, filed in Hillsborough County, is one of thousands that have targeted cigarette makers in Florida during past decade.

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. A jury awarded $2.95 million to Evers in what are known as “non-economic” compensatory damages and $12.36 million in punitive damages.

R.J. Reynolds argued, in part, that the punitive damages should be limited to three times the amount awarded in compensatory damages. But the appeals court, in a 15-page opinion written by Judge Robert Morris and joined by judges Morris Silberman and Patricia Kelly, wrote that “the trial court properly determined that clear and convincing evidence supported the punitive damages award that exceeded the cap and that the award was not excessive.”