Florida Supreme Court To Weigh Punitive Damages Against Cigarette Maker – CBS Miami
TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami / NSF) – The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to include a potentially far-reaching case regarding whether RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. could be forced to give the family of a woman who died in old age $ 16 million in punitive damages to be paid 52 lung cancer.
Lois Stucky’s estate went to the Supreme Court after the 5th District Court of Appeals overturned an Orange County jury awarding $ 16 million in October, declaring the amount “excessive”.
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The appeals court ruling focused on the fact that the jury awarded Stucky’s adult children only $ 300,000 in damages – an amount that was later reduced to $ 150,000 – but awarded the far higher amount of punitive damages.
Courts weight punitive damages claims based on a relationship with damages claims generally associated with compensating individuals for economic loss or injury. But litigation does arise over what the right relationship should be – with a 5th District Appeals Court panel recognizing the difficulty of making such a decision in the Stucky case.
“Like pornography, which cannot be easily defined but is recognizable when viewed, punitive damages in the amount of 106.7 (or 53.3) times the claim for damages are in our opinion excessive and therefore not tenable under state law”, said the panel in its October ruling regarding the ratio of punitive damages of $ 16 million and damages of $ 150,000 or $ 300,000.
But in a March letter asking the Supreme Court to open the dispute, the Stucky estate attorneys said that other lawsuits against tobacco companies upheld high punitive damages claims.
The estate’s lawyers wrote that the appellate court’s ruling “poses worrying equality issues” as some plaintiffs may be eligible for higher punitive damages than others depending on whether they are wealthier and are likely to receive higher compensation payments as a result. Compensation awarded.
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“What possible justification is there for demanding such differential treatment for the same or similar misconduct?” Said the letter. “Especially in a case like this, where the defendant (RJ Reynolds) hadn’t targeted the plaintiff and simply engaged in egregious behavior that threatened to kill millions of people regardless of their circumstances, why can a jury not find that killing a man? justifies the same punishment as killing someone else?
But RJ Reynolds’ attorneys said in a letter in May that the Supreme Court should not open the case and actually let the appeals court’s decision stand. The letter says that when comparing the penalty and compensation payments, a “three-digit ratio can hardly exist”.
“Wherever the line of admissibility is, this case goes way beyond that,” wrote RJ Reynolds’ attorneys.
As an indication of the potential impact of the case, the appeals court took what is known as an affirmation of an issue of “major public concern” to urge the Supreme Court to investigate the issues. The Supreme Court issued a bilateral order on Thursday stating that the case should be opened.
Stucky started smoking RJ Reynolds cigarettes at the age of 17 and died of lung cancer 13 months after she was diagnosed, the appeals court ruling said.
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