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Florida Supreme Court To Take Up Key Tobacco Issue

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
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 Tuesday agreed to take up a potentially far-reaching case that involves the death of a man who started smoking at age 12.

The estate of John C. Price went to the Supreme Court in February after a divided 1st District Court of Appeal tossed out a multimillion-dollar verdict against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Both sides in the case asked the Supreme Court to resolve a key issue that involves proof that smokers relied on misleading information from tobacco companies about the health dangers of cigarettes.

A panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal, in a 2-1 decision in October, ordered a new trial in the Price case because it said a circuit judge did not properly give a jury instruction involving an allegation that the cigarette maker conspired to conceal fraudulent information about smoking.

“Here, no other jury instruction informed the jury of the need to find that Price detrimentally relied on a false or misleading statement by RJR,” the appeals court’s majority opinion said.

Judge Scott Makar, in a dissenting opinion, pointed to an earlier case that he said established the jury could “infer that the misleading ads detrimentally affected Mr. Price’s smoking behavior, thereby establishing reliance.”

In asking the Supreme Court to take up the dispute, attorneys for the Price estate and R.J. Reynolds said appellate courts in different parts of the state have come to different conclusions about what is known as the “fraudulent concealment” issue.

“In short, the effects of this conflict will be felt widely --- and recurrently --- unless this (Supreme) Court provides authoritative guidance,” the estate’s attorneys wrote in an April brief. “Thus, this (Supreme) Court should exercise jurisdiction over this case to resolve this conflict.”

The lawsuit is what is known as an “Engle progeny” case --- one of thousands of lawsuits filed in Florida against tobacco companies. Those cases stemmed from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court ruling that established critical findings about issues including the dangers of smoking and misrepresentation by cigarette makers.