Florida Supreme Court Deals Blow to Tobacco Companies

A closely watched case was recently decided by the Florida Supreme Court, and it dealt a blow to the tobacco industry. This is the most recent in a series of cases which have been chipping away at tobacco company bottom lines, while compensating victims and victim survivors for the damages and injuries that result from using tobacco.

For decades, big tobacco has defended its product on a number of fronts. In the beginning, it was defended as not causing cancer or other maladies to users. But now that defense has been debunked by science, and the effects of using tobacco are clear and dangerous. Since evidence of the harmful effects of tobacco has become common knowledge, a new defense of implied consent or knowing use has risen up.

Despite these defenses, companies continue to lose in court for the damage their products have caused. Now, after tobacco companies have faced steep losses and large verdicts, trial lawyers have gone after them for punitive damages. This is a different mode of recovery than simple damages. Punitive damages are a way for a jury to punish a company for intentionally wrongful or willfully reckless behavior. Until now, these types of damages were not available to victims of tobacco company products.

Details of This Case

In Soffer v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Comp., the primary issue before the Florida Supreme Court was whether a tobacco company could be assessed punitive damages following a civil case. In the particular case at hand, a man died from lung cancer in 1992 after suffering a smoking addiction for nearly all his life. His surviving spouse brought an action against the company for negligence, fraud, and conspiracy to commit fraud.

Some of these claims required that the company knew of its products harmful effects, yet continued to market it to the man, and others, despite that knowledge. Of course, today, if a person want to consume tobacco, the label states clearly that it is health risk and can cause cancer. But during the life of this man, those warning were not present. So the question was what did the company know, and when did they know it?

After a prolonged trial where both parties had the opportunity to present their cases, the man prevailed by a jury verdict. It was then that his estate sought punitive damages to punish the company for their deeds. The appeals court hearing for the case ruled that the company could not be assessed punitive damages, but that did not stand as the Florida Supreme Court reversed them. In their opinion, the High Court reasoned that these types of cases are no exception to other cases, and that a jury has the ability to assess punitive damages if the claims are properly pled and within the rules.

Panama City Area Accident and Injury Attorney

This case is an example of how companies should be made to pay for the damage they cause to unsuspecting consumers. When we use a product we expect that the company who offers it is not concealing harmful effects, or that it is simply safe. If you have been injured by a faulty product, contact us. At The Pittman Firm our team of dedicated professionals will help you understand what your legal rights are in a product liability case.

See related blogs: Florida Jury Awards Over $100 Million in Trial; What is the Medical Malpractice Cap in Florida?.
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