Wrongful death lawsuits may range from a single death in a car accident to complex class-action claims involving multiple defendants. A decision handed down this month has been deemed the “largest wrongful death judgment in Florida history,” to a single plaintiff. According to local reports, a Pensacola woman sued RJ Reynolds in 2008 over the death of her husband. The lawsuit alleged that the company knowingly conspired to hide the health dangers and addictive nature of its tobacco products. The victim was only 36 years old when he died of lung cancer.
Tobacco litigation has been on the rise since the 1980s, when victims and their loved ones learned the very dangerous effects of smoking. Despite the history of litigation and anti-smoking campaigns, recent lawsuits have shed light on the reality that tobacco companies have still gone to great lengths to hide the dangers of these products from consumers. Our Fort Lauderdale wrongful death attorneys are dedicated to uncovering the truth about dangerous products and manufacturers. We are also experienced in complex litigation and can successfully protect the rights of individuals who have lost a loved one as a result of negligent corporations.
The trial took four weeks and the jury deliberated for 11 hours before returning a verdict that granted compensatory damages of $7.3 million to the widow and their child. The jury also granted $9.6 to the victim’s son from a previous relationship. In addition to these significant sums, the jury awarded $23.6 billion in punitive damages. Defense lawyers did not make any immediate comments to the press, but the general counsel on behalf of the tobacco company stated in a New York Times quote that the company planned to appeal the verdict. In the tobacco industry, many of the appeals are successful.
While defense lawyers and tobacco advocates have blamed a “runaway jury,” lawyers for the plaintiff called the verdict courageous. According to reports, the jury was compelled by evidence showing the aggressive marketing campaigns targeting young people. The jury was also angered that the company presented false evidence to Congress, intentionally lied to the public, and went out of its way to blame the victim in court.
The case arose from a larger class-action claim in 1994 that was filed against tobacco companies. A jury previously awarded the plaintiffs $145 billion in that case, which was the largest judgment in the history of the United States. This verdict was tossed by the Florida Supreme Court, which also decertified the class, agreeing that the class did not have a common set of facts. The highest court agreed with lower court findings that the group of plaintiffs each had different reasons for smoking. In that case, the court said that it would allow plaintiffs to file their claims individually.
The Supreme Court let stand that cigarettes are a defective product that cause disease and that the tobacco company was negligent. This meant that the issues of negligence did not have to be proven in future cases. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to hear the tobacco company appeals which amount to judgments totaling $70 million. Each of these cases present a substantial blow to big tobacco and could signal future changes for manufacturing and marketing of a product that has been deemed defective by Florida courts and other state courts nationwide.
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