Florida Appellate Court Orders New Trial in Tobacco Product Liability, Fraud, and Negligence Lawsuit

Lawsuits brought against tobacco companies have been some of the most widely watched actions across the country. In a recent decision, a Florida appellate court concluded that a new trial was appropriate in an action involving a multi-million-dollar judgment against a group of tobacco companies. In RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Calloway, the defendant tobacco companies filed an appeal after the jury at the trial returned a verdict against them totaling millions of dollars.

In the underlying dispute, the plaintiffs had asserted claims for strict liability, fraudulent concealment, negligence, and conspiracy to commit fraud. The plaintiff was the personal representative of the estate of a man who died after suffering complications allegedly linked to his frequent use of cigarettes. Evidence at trial indicated that the man had started smoking cigarettes when he was 15 years old.

At the close of trial, the jury took this evidence into consideration and concluded that the deceased man was roughly 20.5 percent at fault for the injuries he sustained as a result of his cigarette usage. According to Florida law, a jury can consider whether a plaintiff acted negligently and whether this negligence was partly responsible for the injuries that the plaintiff sustained. If the jury determines that the plaintiff acted more negligently than the defendant by attributing 51 percent or more of the fault  to the plaintiff, the plaintiff may be barred from recovering compensation altogether.

The defendants appealed the judgment, stating that the plaintiff’s lawyer made inflammatory comments in front of the jurors multiple times and that such behavior warranted a new trial. The defendants also asserted that the lower court erred when it provided instructions to the jury about the claims involving fraud, in addition to its entry of a joint and several judgment that rendered each defendant liable for the damages attributed to the other defendants.

The appeals court concluded that the plaintiff’s attorney’s remarks were indeed inappropriate, but it rejected the defendant’s argument that the judgment must be reversed as a result, due to the lower court judge’s prompt instruction to the jury to disregard the statements. The appellate court did conclude, however, that reversal was proper on the basis that the lower court failed to provide a jury instruction that the defense proposed regarding the plaintiff’s fraudulent concealment claim, involving the issue of reliance. The court found the issue of detrimental reliance to be a critical aspect of the claim. The appellate court cited other deficiencies with the jury instructions provided, including instructions regarding the conspiracy claim. Since both of these claims provided the basis for the jury’s award of punitive damages, the appellate court reversed the punitive damages award and remanded the action for a new trial.

If you or someone you love has suffered injuries due to a dangerous product, you may be entitled to compensation. At Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano, our team of experienced litigators has provided victims with experienced legal counsel throughout Southwest Florida, including in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, and Naples. We will guide you through each phase of the litigation and ensure that you receive the judgment or settlement that you deserve. Call us now at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online to set up your free consultation.

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