Florida Court of Appeals Rejects Punitive Damages Award

Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeals rejected a punitive damages award of $30 million earlier this month. The verdict was handed down by a jury after a trial about whether a major tobacco company should be held responsible for selling cigarettes that the plaintiff’s husband smoked over a lifetime.

This case holds several important lessons for anyone interested in bringing a wrongful death claim in Florida. This case involved a man who, over the course of his life, smoked cigarettes because he was addicted to nicotine. At the end of his life he contracted lung cancer, which eventually killed him. After he died, his family brought a wrongful death suit against the company who manufactured and sold the cigarettes he smoked over the course of his life.

Wrongful Death Suits in Florida

In Florida, a wrongful death suit seeks to compensate the survivors of a victim who died because of the negligence of another. In this instance, the family accused the tobacco company of wrongfully causing the death of their loved one by selling a defective and harmful product that killed him. Additionally, the family sued the company for fraudulently concealing the harmful effects of the tobacco that caused the man’s cancer.

One of the important aspects of a wrongful death suit in Florida is the issue of punitive damages. Under the law, punitive damages seeks to punish a bad actor for what he or she did to cause the death of another, in hopes that the person or company will not act that way again. In order for punitive damages to stand, they cannot be so high that they violate the due process provisions of the U.S. Constitution.

What Happened in This Case

It was in this environment that the family sought to hold the tobacco company responsible for the death of their loved one. At trial the family made its arguments, presented their evidence, and won their case. In summation of the case to the jury, the family’s attorney asked them not to award any damages above $25 million. The reason: Florida courts have not upheld punitive damages awards of more than $25 million in tobacco cases to date. Despite this plea by the family’s attorney, the jury awarded a punitive damages verdict of $30 million.

As you would expect, the company appealed the results, and the Fourth District Court of Appeals sided with the tobacco company. In their opinion rejecting the verdict the court said that $30 million was excessive, and that the lower court should adjust the award based on what happened at trial and in accordance with due process rights under the U.S. Constitution.

A Panama City Area Wrongful Death Firm for You

This case illustrates how complicated wrongful death law can be and how important it is to be guided by a professional with experience in this area of law. At the Pittman Firm our team of dedicated professionals have the experience and knowledge that your case deserves. If you have more questions about this topic and would like to ask about a potential case, contact us.


See related blog posts: Hurricane Joaquin: Sunken Ship Prompts Lawsuit; Valuing a Life.
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