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Health News Florida

Florida Supreme Court sides with RJR and rejects a $5 million punitive award for a smoker's widow

Cigarette smoking continues to decline as taxes on tobacco rise.
The ruling came in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Mary Sheffield after her husband, Valton, died of lung cancer.

The justices upheld the decision of an appellate court that said a circuit judge improperly applied a pre-1999 version of a state punitive damages law to the case.

Siding with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, the Florida Supreme Court last week rejected a $5 million punitive-damages award in a lawsuit involving the death of a smoker in 2007.

It was one of thousands of cases filed against the tobacco industry after a 2006 Supreme Court ruling that established critical findings about issues such as the dangers of smoking and misrepresentation by cigarette makers.

An Orange County jury awarded almost $2 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages to Mary Sheffield as the representative of her husband’s estate after he died of lung cancer.

But R.J. Reynolds argued that a circuit judge improperly applied a pre-1999 version of a state punitive damages law to the case, and a panel of the 5th District Court of Appeal agreed two years ago.That led Sheffield to go to the Supreme Court, which upheld the appeals court decision in a 6-1 ruling.