Florida Appellate Court Upholds $7.2 Million Tobacco Verdict
A South Florida appellate court has upheld a $7.25 million verdict against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in a case filed by a man who smoked two packs of cigarettes a day by age 17 and later suffered from coronary artery disease.
The unanimous ruling Wednesday by a three-judge panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal rejected R.J. Reynolds’ arguments that plaintiff Paul E. Rouse had not proven an allegation related to the tobacco company fraudulently concealing the dangers of smoking.
The appeal came after a Miami-Dade County jury awarded $5 million in compensatory damages and $2.25 million in punitive damages to Rouse.
In addition to starting to smoke heavily as a teen, Rouse was exposed to tobacco-industry advertising and said he smoked Winston filtered cigarettes because he thought they were safer based on advertisements, Wednesday’s ruling said.
Rouse, who was born in 1954, began experiencing chest pains in 1995 and underwent triple-bypass surgery in 1999, with doctors testifying that smoking was a major cause for his heart condition.
The appellate court backed Rouse’s arguments that he had relied on the advertising by R.J. Reynolds.
“In sum, not only did Rouse present evidence that he was exposed throughout his life to the tobacco companies’ broad-based misleading advertising campaign, he also testified that his decision to smoke Winston filtered cigarettes was influenced by the way the tobacco companies promoted filtered cigarettes in their advertisements,” said the 12-page ruling, written by Judge Fleur Lobree and joined by judges Vance Salter and Bronwyn Miller.
“From this evidence, a reasonable jury could have inferred that Rouse might have never started smoking Winston filtered cigarettes or would have quit earlier had he known true facts about filtered cigarettes.”
The decision came in what is known as an “Engle progeny case” - one of thousands of lawsuits filed in Florida against tobacco companies. Those cases stem from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court ruling that established critical findings about issues such as the dangers of smoking and misrepresentation by cigarette makers.