Florida Appeals Court Throws Out $10.6M Tobacco Verdict
A jury awarded damages to the estate of Janice Hamilton, a smoker who died of lung cancer. But R.J. Reynolds argued in the appeal that a circuit judge improperly allowed a hearsay statement.
In a victory for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., a state appeals court Wednesday overturned a $10.6 million verdict against the cigarette-maker in a lawsuit involving a woman’s death from lung cancer.
A three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal ordered a new trial in the Broward County lawsuit.
A jury awarded $6 million in compensatory damages and $4.6 million in punitive damages to the estate of Janice Hamilton, a smoker who died of lung cancer. But R.J. Reynolds argued in the appeal that a circuit judge improperly allowed a hearsay statement that centered on a conversation between Hamilton and her son when he was a teen.
The appeals court ruling said that during the conversation, Hamilton allegedly told her son that “if he was going to smoke, he should smoke filtered cigarettes because they were ‘safe’ based on information she got from advertisements.”
R.J. Reynolds argued that the part of the statement about where Hamilton got her information was hearsay and should not have been allowed in the trial. The appeals court agreed, as the statement was used to prove what is known as a “fraudulent concealment” claim against the cigarette maker.
“In order for plaintiff (Hamilton’s son, as representative of the estate) to prevail on his conspiracy to commit fraud by concealment claim, he was required to prove that Mrs. Hamilton detrimentally relied on an act or statement made in furtherance of RJR’s agreement to conceal or omit material information concerning the health effects or addictive nature of cigarettes,” said Wednesday’s seven-page ruling, written by Judge Dorian Damoorgian and joined by Judges Cory Ciklin and Mark Klingensmith. “Mrs. Hamilton’s statement that filtered cigarettes were safe based on what she heard from advertising, in turn, was undoubtedly the strongest evidence of reliance in this case."