Tobacco lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds could go to Florida Supreme Court

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click to enlarge Tobacco lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds could go to Florida Supreme Court
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The Florida Supreme Court is being asked to take up a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. that involves the death of a man who started smoking at age 12.

The estate of John C. Price filed a notice this week that is a first step in asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, according to documents posted on the court website. The request came after a divided panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal in October tossed out a verdict against R.J. Reynolds because of an error in jury instructions and ordered a new trial in the Duval County case.

The appeals-court ruling said Price, who started smoking at 12, smoked two to three packs of cigarettes a day for most of his adult life. The lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds is what is known as an “Engle progeny” case – one of thousands of lawsuits filed in Florida against tobacco companies. Those cases stemmed from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court ruling that established critical findings about issues including the dangers of smoking and misrepresentation by cigarette makers.

A jury in the Price case awarded $6.4 million in compensatory damages, with R.J. Reynolds found to be 40 percent at fault and Price found to be 60 percent at fault, the ruling said. But the Tallahassee-based appeals court ordered a new trial because it said a circuit judge did not properly give a jury instruction involving an allegation that the cigarette maker conspired to conceal fraudulent information about smoking.

“Here, no other jury instruction informed the jury of the need to find that Price detrimentally relied on a false or misleading statement by RJR,” Judge Lori Rowe wrote in the majority opinion. But Judge Scott Makar dissented, pointing to an earlier case that he said established the jury could “infer that the misleading ads detrimentally affected Mr. Price’s smoking behavior, thereby establishing reliance.”

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