Saturday, April 11, 2015

U.S. appeals court deals setback to Florida tobacco plaintiffs | Reuters

U.S. appeals court deals setback to Florida tobacco plaintiffs | Reuters: "(Reuters) - A U.S. appeals court ruling on Wednesday could make it more difficult for smokers suing tobacco companies in Florida to prove claims that cigarettes are dangerous and that tobacco companies were negligent.

The ruling by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reverses more than $800,000 in damages from R.J. Reynolds and Altria Group Inc unit Philip Morris USA Inc awarded in 2013 to Earl Graham, whose wife Faye, a longtime smoker, died in 1993 of lung cancer.

More broadly, the court said smokers who, like Graham, were originally part of a massive class action in Florida against the tobacco companies could not rely on findings from the class action trial to prove claims that cigarettes are defective and tobacco companies were negligent."

You can find the surprising opinion here.   The crux of the opinion is the last paragraph:

Cigarette smoking presents one of the most intractable public health
problems our nation has ever faced. It was not so long ago that anyone would walk a mile for a Camel: cigarette smoke once filled movie theaters, college classrooms, and even indoor basketball courts. For fifty years, the States and the federal government have worked to raise awareness about the dangers of smoking and to limit smoking’s adverse consequences to the greatest extent possible, all without prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to adult consumers. To that end, the State of
Florida may ordinarily enforce duties on cigarette manufacturers in a bid to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens. But it may not enforce a duty, as it has through the Engle jury findings, premised on the theory that all cigarettes are inherently defective and that every cigarette sale is an inherently negligent act. So our holding is narrow indeed: it is only these specific, sweeping bases for state tort liability that we conclude frustrate the full purposes and objectives of Congress.
As a result, Graham’s Engle-progeny strict-liability and negligence claims are preempted, and we must reverse the District Court’s denial of judgment as a matter of law. For these reasons, the judgment of the District Court is REVERSED.

Case: 13-14590 Date Filed: 04/08/2015 Page: 50 of 50

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