April 26, 2010

Another Punitive Damages Award in Florida Tobacco Litigation

BusinessWeek reports that a Florida jury has awarded $10 million in compensatory damages and $80 million in punitive damages to a smoker's widow in a lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds, as part of the ongoing series of post-Engle trials in that state.

The jury allocated 49% of the fault to the smoker. As a result, the Florida trial judge reduced the total award against R.J. Reynolds, including the punitive damages, by 49 percent. The net result was a judgment of $46.3 million.

I have never seen a California defendant ask a judge to reduce a punitive damages by the percentage of fault allocated to the plaintiff. I have seen many cases in which a defendant argues that the issue of excessiveness should be evaluated in light of the compensatory damages as reduced by the allocation of fault. But aside from arguments on excessiveness, I haven't seen anyone argue that the allocation of fault should result in a direct, corresponding reduction in the punitive damages. Although I haven't researched this extensively, I'm not aware of any California law directly on point. When the California Supreme Court adopted the doctrine of comparative negligence in Yi v. Yellow Cab, the court expressly declined to address the effect of that rule on punitive damages, saying only that "[t]he law of punitive damages remains a separate consideration."

Related posts:

Florida Jury Awards $20 Million in Punitive Damages to Smoker's Widow

Smoker's Widow Wins $12.5 Million in Punitive Damages

Florida Trial Judge Cuts $244 Million Punitive Damages Award

Florida Jury Awards $25 Million in Punitive Damages to Smoker's Widow

"Smokers, tobacco, both winners in early Engle cases"

Jury Rules For Plaintiff in First Phase of Retrial After Reversal of $145 Billion Punitive Damages Award

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

Plaintiffs' Attorneys Win $218 Million Fee Award for Helping Obtain a Punitive Damages Verdict that Was Reversed on Appeal