December 2, 2008

After Reversal of $145 Billion Class Action Punitive Damages Award, Florida Smokers Seek Punitive Damages in Individual Suits

The Miami Herald reports that the first trial is underway in a series of 8,000 individual lawsuits by Florida smokers against tobacco manufacturers. These cases are the result of the failed Engle class action, in which Florida smokers collectively obtained an award of $145 billion in punitive damages, the largest civil award in U.S. history. In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court overturned that award, ruling that the plaintiffs had to prove individually that cigarettes caused their illnesses.

It will be interesting to see if these individual lawsuits generate the sort of enormous punitive damages that California juries have rendered in tobacco lawsuits (e.g., the $28 billion awarded in Bullock v. Philip Morris), and if so, whether those awards will survive appellate review under the Supreme Court's recent series of punitive damages decisions (unlike the award in Bullock, which was remanded for a new trial in light of Williams II).

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