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Supreme Court ruling puts tobacco on back foot in Engle progeny cases

| March 15, 2013

Philip Morris USA has said it plans to seek further review following yesterday’s decision by the Florida Supreme Court in the Douglas case.

In a 6-1 decision, the court reaffirmed its 2006 ‘Engle’ case ruling that decertified a class action but allowed former class members to file individual lawsuits (the so-called Engle progeny cases) and rely on general findings from the first class action.

The court’s opinion held that the current Engle progeny trial structure did not violate Florida Law and federal due process.

“We are reviewing the court’s decision and considering all of our options,” said Murray Garnick, senior vice president and associate general counsel, Altria Client Services, speaking on behalf of Philip Morris USA.

“We believe that the court ruled incorrectly in allowing individual plaintiffs to use the general findings from the prior Engle case to prove their strict liability and negligence claims without showing that any wrongful conduct actually caused their injuries.”

In the dissent, Justice Canady said that the findings were “too slender [a] reed to support the imposition of liability”.

Justice Canady stated that the majority’s analysis was “exactly backward” and that its reading of the findings was “unreasonable” and “unconvincing” because the findings did not establish “that all of the cigarettes sold by defendants were defective”.

In the Douglas case, $2.5 million has been award to the family of Charlotte Douglas, who died in 2008 of lung cancer at the age of 62, against Philip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Liggett.

According to a Bloomberg News story, PM USA faces about 4,800 post-Engle cases and R.J. Reynolds 5,750.

A background report on the Engle cases by J.B. Harris is on The Florida Bar Journal at: http://www.floridabar.org/DIVCOM/JN/JNJournal01.nsf/d59e2cf27607c0cf85256ad1005ba53f/a0b86fb25b4e9cca85257aa6004b58d1!OpenDocument

Category: Breaking News

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