PALM BEACH -- Florida's Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal has denied the appeal from Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds in a lawsuit that found in favor of a Florida man who sued the tobacco companies for hiding the dangers of smoking, alleging the plaintiff’s medical expert testimony wasn’t qualified.
The court also reversed the trial court decision to reduce the plaintiff’s award for the negligence it found on behalf of his wife.
Judge Carole Y. Taylor delivered the opinion for the court, stating, “We agree with the plaintiff’s argument that he is permitted to seek punitive damages on his claims for negligence and strict liability.”
Robert Gore sued tobacco companies R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris for hiding the dangers of smoking and leading to artery disease and cancer that he says led to his wife’s death. Gloria Gore was a smoker for more than 40 years.
Robert Gore was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages in 2015 after the jury found his wife’s addiction to cigarettes did lead to her lung cancer and carotid artery stenosis. The court found that Gloria was 54 percent responsible and refused to find liability for punitive damages.
The tobacco companies appealed, saying that the expert medical testimony was not just his opinion, but that the doctor offered his opinion on the chemical science of ammonia in cigarettes.
Gore cross-appealed the judgment, arguing the trial court shouldn’t have reduced his award for the percentage that the jury found his wife Gloria was at fault for the addiction to cigarettes. Taylor agreed with Gore and noted that the compensatory damages award can’t be reduced by comparative fault after the jury awarded intentional tort claims for Gore unless the plaintiff waived the intentional tort exception to the comparative fault statute. The intentional tort exception, however, is not waived simply because an Engle plaintiff argues comparative fault on the negligence counts.”
Gore’s case was one of thousands that came from the 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision in Engle V Liggett Group Inc. The Engle case ruled that if a plaintiff could prove a link between the smoker’s addiction to cigarettes and a smoking related disease that occurred before Nov. 21, 1996, the plaintiff could rely on the Engle case finding that tobacco companies had produced a dangerous, addictive product and sold it to the public, conspiring to hide the dangers of smoking. Gloria Gore was diagnosed in 1992 with artery disease.
The appellate court remanded the case back to trial court to “award compensatory damages in the full amount of the jury’s verdict”.
Philip Morris USA is represented by attorneys Geoffrey J. Michael of Arnold & Porter LLP in Washington, D.C., and David Northrip of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, Kansas City, Missouri.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by attorneys Gregory G. Katsas of Jones Day, Washington, D.C., and Charles R.A. Morse of Jones Day of New York.
Gore is represented by attorneys Bard D. Rockenbach and Andrew A. Harris of Burlington & Rockenbach PA, in West Palm Beach, and by Jason L. Odom of Gould, Cooksey, Fennell PA in Vero Beach.
Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals, case Number 4D15-3892