Cigarette Companies Ask Florida Supreme Court to Review Decision

Last Friday, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Liggett Group LLC, and Philip Morris USA Inc. filed a notice asking the Supreme Court of Florida to use its discretionary jurisdiction to review a decision from the end of July. The tobacco companies reasoned that the decision “expressly and directly conflicts” with other decisions regarding the same question.

The companies appealed a final judgment of damages in favor of the plaintiff, James Santoro, who is a successor and representative for Grace Santoro’s estate. The original lawsuit, which began in 2007, included claims of strict liability, negligence, fraudulent concealment, and conspiracy to commit fraud by concealment based on Grace’s death from lung cancer in 1998.

The District Court of Appeal for the Fourth District of Florida, in its ruling filed on July 29th by Judges Forst and Walsh, affirmed a previous denial of a directed verdict on class membership, ruling with the jury that Grace’s cancer was manifested within the class definition for the Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc. case. The court, however, reversed the previous directed verdict related to strict liability and negligence claims, and asked for “reinstatement of the jury verdict on those claims” and an amended final judgment including punitive damages on the claims based on the jury’s verdict.

The initial award was later reduced based on “Mrs. Santoro’s comparative negligence,” but the trial court changed this with respect to compensatory damages, awarding the full amount of damages. Both sides appealed this ruling. The opinion said the defendants claimed there was a “lack of proof of causation from each defendant’s brands of cigarettes.”

The tobacco companies did not state in their Notice to Invoke Discretionary Jurisdiction, asking for the ruling to be reviewed, which decisions the court’s ruling conflicted with. They did, however, file a motion to extend the time period for them to file a brief in the case, noting upcoming due dates in other cases the counsel is involved in.

R.J. Reynolds is represented by King & Spalding LLP, which filed the notice on behalf of the remaining appellants. James Santoro is represented by Parafinczuk Wolf Susen and Burlington & Rockenbach, P.A.