The United States Supreme Court refused to review a 2006 Florida wrongful death case which held that plaintiffs in cigarette liability suits may use factual findings by a jury in an earlier case to prove their claims seeking to hold cigarette companies liable for the damage caused by their products. This rule, known as the Engle rule, now makes it easier for plaintiffs to prove negligence by tobacco companies and to collect damages by relieving subsequent plaintiffs of the necessity of proving all elements of their claims.
When the negligence of an individual or a company causes injuries resulting in death, a "wrongful death" case is brought by the victim's family. Florida law provides that the negligent party or its insurance company must pay monetary damages to the family members for their loss of the victim's wages, the victim's medical and hospital bills until death, funeral expenses, and for the grief that is experienced.
Generally, in order for a plaintiff to prove negligence, they must show the company breached a duty of care and that breach resulted in the death of a loved one. Now, as a result of the 2006 case, plaintiffs in cigarette wrongful death claims can prove negligence based on the established factual findings of the jury from prior litigation. This new rule allows the jury to decide the facts and allows more victims of wrongful death from tobacco companies to bring claims in Florida courts.
The Engle class action lawsuit was originally filed against cigarette makers in 1994. After the verdict, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that individual cases could still proceed against the cigarette companies and that the defendants could not dispute nicotine is an addictive substance that causes potentially fatal diseases. This means plaintiffs no longer have to prove nicotine is harmful and addictive, it is already established fact.
Cigarette companies, including Reynolds Tobacco Company, a unit of Winston Salem, argue the Engle rule violates their Due Process rights and threatens tobacco companies with "literally billions of dollars of liability." Proponents of the Supreme Court decision argue tobacco companies spent decades hiding the facts about nicotine and tobacco and plaintiffs should not be expected to prove established facts with each case brought to court.
As a result of the Engle rule, over 8,000 cases claiming death and injury from tobacco are pending against U.S. cigarette makers in Florida. Currently, because of the Engle rule, victims of tobacco have won 40 of 58 verdicts in Florida courts.
We take great pride to ensure we are well aware of changes to Florida wrongful death law, particularly as it applies to cigarette and tobacco companies. We understand that big businesses like the tobacco industry can be as an intimidating entity to challenge legally, and you may feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to proceed next. If you or a loved one has suffered serious injuries as a result of the conduct others, or if a loved one has passed away as a result, you need an experienced Florida personal injury attorney to support you through this difficult time and focus on the legal issues, so you can focus on your family and your health.