February 27, 2017

Florida appellate court orders new trial in tobacco case with $23.6 billion punitive damages award

Law 360 reports that Florida's First District Court of Appeal has ordered a new trial in a case in which a jury awarded $23.6 billion in punitive damages to the family of a smoker. (See our post about the verdict in 2014.) 

The Court of Appeal's opinion holds that the plaintiffs' counsel committed misconduct during closing arguments by making several improper arguments.  Counsel argued that RJR Reynolds acted wrongly by defending itself, and that it had employed a dishonest legal strategy.  The court observed that "the purpose of closing argument is to facilitate reasoned analysis of the facts and the evidence, not to denigrate the opposing party with outlandish conspiracy theories."   The court observed that the misconduct was "clearly intended to stir the passions of the jury," which apparently it did, judging by the size of the award.