For the eighth time in seven years, the Supreme Court has denied a request by tobacco manufacturers to review tobacco verdicts that challenge individual damages verdicts.
The 10 new petitions total a combined $64 million; the denial was issued without comment or noted dissents, wrote ScotusBlog. The long running fight between Florida smokers, or their heirs, and some key tobacco firms involve cases that are part of what are considered the third round in Florida’s “Engle litigation” and involve thousands of individual lawsuits. Many believe that these individual cases are easier to win against cigarette makers due to the initial court-created plan on how these cases would be tried.
The Engle case was filed in 1994 and brought by six individuals who made eight separate claims of alleged legal wrongdoings by tobacco companies against smokers, according to ScotusBlog. The claims involved allegations of fraud claims and that cigarettes are dangerous because of flawed designs. The initial case was first filed as a class action on behalf of all smokers who died resulting or became ill due to a smoking-related disease, wrote ScotusBlog. The case was originally brought as a nationwide lawsuit, was reduced to cover one class in Florida, was removed as a class action, and was expanded into thousands of individual trials.
In the first of these individual cases, Florida courts created a plan that would make findings of fact and or legal liability for all smokers and all cigarette types; these would be binding in future phases, according to ScotusBlog. The next round would determine questions of liability toward three class representatives and questions of punitive damages for the full class. The third round would involve the individual cases.
The original Engle jury awarded $145 billion in punitive damages to the class; however, the Florida Supreme Court put aside both the award and the class designation. When the third-round of individual cases was reaching trial, the original jury’s findings became binding. Following the 2006 decision, more than 9,000 individual lawsuits were filed and, over the seven years, the tobacco firms routinely tried to have the Supreme Court review the Engle decision and its so-called “Engle progeny”—the follow-up lawsuit. The tobacco companies were unsuccessful, ScotusBlog wrote.
The most recent legal effort involved 10 petitions filed on March 28 that raised basic questions regarding constitutional due process violations. The attorneys agreed that two cases were preferred for Court review; the attorneys in those cases suggested the Court grant one or both and the lawyers in the other cases agreed that their cases would remain on hold pending decisions on the two lead cases. ScotusBlog wrote that one case was from a state appeals court ruling and involved a $600,000 reward. The other case was derived from a federal appeals court decision and involved verdicts of $27,500 and $7,676. The other cases were larger, ranging from $5.5 million in compensatory and $20 million in punitive damages for a total of $13.4 million in compensatory and $51.6 million in punitive damages.
The individuals who won the verdicts in the 10 cases chose not to respond to the petitions. The Supreme Court asked each for a response and after it examined the cases, the Court denied the petitions without granting any new cases for review, according to ScotusBlog.