TALLAHASSEE — The Florida First District Court of Appeal has affirmed a lower court decision against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in a case in which a woman claims the laryngeal cancer she suffered from was caused by cigarettes.
The appeals court upheld the legality of the decision from Judge Martin Fitzpatrick of the Circuit Court for Gadsden County to award damages and the structural procedures used to determine those damages.
The case, Florence Monroe v. R.J. Reynolds, 2013-CA-001121 is a so-called “Engle” case, named for the 1994 Engle v. Liggett Group, class-action claim involving Florida smokers who wanted to sue tobacco companies for knowingly producing a dangerous and addictive product. The Engle jury found that tobacco companies did indeed know that their product was both dangerous and addictive.
In the Engle case, the Florida Supreme Court refused to allow the case to be certified as a class action but did allow individuals to sue and use the Engle jury findings if they could prove their illness was caused by an addiction to cigarettes.
In this case, Florence Monroe, 71, was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer in 1993. Doctors later removed Monroe’s voice box. R.J. Reynolds attorneys contended that Monroe’s cancer was caused by the human papillomavirus and therefore not smoking related.
The jurors, however, awarded $11 million to Monroe but denied the claim for punitive damages. The jury concluded that Monroe did not rely on tobacco marketing claims but simply chose to ignore warnings about smoking.
R.J. Reynolds appealed and sought a reduction of $11 million in damages. The appeals court denied the request. First District Court of Appeal Judge T. Kent Wetherell II dissented with the other judges, arguing that the law allows for some reduction in damages if the jury finds that the plaintiff holds some contributory negligence.
In this case, the jury found that Monroe was 42 percent responsible for her occurrence of cancer. R.J. Reynolds in its appeal asked that the court reduce the judgment in proportion to the amount of negligence attributed to the plaintiff. The plaintiff disagreed with this amount, and the lower court allowed damages to stand.
Wetherell said that the case should be sent back to the lower court for a hearing on the damages to reach an amount in line with other damage awards in Engle cases involving laryngitis cancer.