On Monday, June 10, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to entertain ten appeals by the nation’s largest cigarette manufacturers, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Philip Morris USA Inc. and Lorillard Inc., which would have affected more than $70 million in verdicts against them.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling denying the appeals allows the Florida Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., et al., to remain intact.
In Engle, the Florida Supreme Court reversed a $145 billion punitive damage award and partially decertified the class of Floridians who brought claims against the tobacco companies and required individual case determination regarding the issues of legal causation, comparative fault, and damages. Nevertheless, the Florida Supreme Court granted individual class members one year to file their suits, and gave res judicata effect to several significant findings of the Engle jury in subsequent trials between individual class members and the defendants.” These findings included: that cigarettes are unreasonably dangerous; cigarettes cause numerous types of cancer and diseases; nicotine is addictive; Big Tobacco has acted negligently; and that even though they knew about these dangers, tobacco companies intentionally concealed information from consumers about the impact of cigarettes on their health.
As a consequence of the 2006 ruling in Engle, over 8,000 individual class members pursued their own lawsuits, thereby creating the potential for extensive damage awards against the manufacturers. With billions of dollars at stake, the tobacco companies had hoped that the U.S. Supreme Court would review 11 of the multi-million dollar awards bestowed upon certain Engle progeny plaintiffs. However, with the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the appeals, the manufacturers now must either continue to vigorously defend thousands of Engle progeny actions on a case-by-case basis, or finally come to the bargaining table and willingly negotiate a resolution of these claims.