The ongoing case of a big tobacco manufacturer and a frail older woman continues as a Florida appeals court ordered that a second trial be conducted for the tobacco wrongful death lawsuit.
About the Case
The plaintiff in the case is an 80-year-old resident of Hollywood. She says that her husband started smoking when he was 13. In testimony and interviews, she also says that he could barely breathe for the final thirteen years of his life. He finally died at the age of 80 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 2008. She sued R.J. Reynolds, the second largest tobacco company in the United States.
The woman originally won the case. The jury awarded her punitive damages in the amount of $25 million, along with $405,000 for medical and funeral expenses, and $4.83 million for pain and suffering.
Challenges to the Ruling
The Fourth District Court of Appeals made decisions regarding multiple matters. First it ruled that the Broward circuit court judge erred when he refused to allow the tobacco company to present part of its defense. In particular, the court ruled that the next jury should have an opportunity to hear the tobacco company’s defense regarding fraudulent concealment and conspiracy claims that were made against it.
The tobacco company says that the widow cannot prove that her husband relied on tobacco company fraudulent statements, which would keep the case within the 12-year statute of limitations against fraud. However, the court of appeals also ruled that the judge erred when he lowered part of the widow’s award. The circuit court judge had cut the punitive damages down to $15.7 million in a move that the court of appeals said was wrong because the amount was not “so excessive as to violate due process.”
Because the case is going back for a new trial, the process essentially starts all over. The next jury may rule in favor of the window and award a larger or smaller verdict. It could also rule against the mother, and she could lose her chance at the verdict she received the first time around.