A Florida court affirmed a $26.75 million award to the children of a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer, pointing to a previous decision in which it found that smokers are not required to show reliance on a statement made by tobacco companies in order to prevail on fraudulent concealment and conspiracy claims.
Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal affirmed the award against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris USA Inc., rejecting their arguments that Kevin and Christina Duignan, whose father Douglas Duignan died of cancer in 1992 at the age of 42, should have had to show their father relied on particular statements from the tobacco companies regarding the safety of their products.
The appeals court relied on its 2017 decision in the first appeal of the Duignans’ case, in which the court ordered a new trial in part because the lower court had instructed the jury that the plaintiffs needed to show reliance on a tobacco company statement.
But the Second District teed up the case for the Florida Supreme Court by certifying a conflict with the First District’s 2019 decision in R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Prentice, which held that Engle progeny plaintiffs must prove reliance on a false statement from a tobacco company in order to win on fraudulent conspiracy and concealment. Both the Third and Fourth Districts have also issued opinions in line with the Second District’s Duignan decision.
The case is one of thousands stemming from the landmark Engle v. Liggett Group class action against tobacco companies that led to a $145 billion verdict. The Florida Supreme Court decertified the Engle class in 2006 but allowed class members to file individual suits and rely on the jury’s findings, which include conclusions that smoking causes certain diseases and that tobacco companies hid the dangers of smoking.
A jury first awarded Duignan’s children $12 million — half of that punitive damages — in 2015, but that award was overturned two years later by the Second District because of an improper answer from Duignan’s brother in response to a note from the jury and because of the trial court’s instructions regarding detrimental reliance.
In February 2020, another jury awarded $2.75 million in compensatory damages and $24 million in punitive damages after rejecting the tobacco companies’ arguments that they had turned over a new leaf in how they marketed and sold cigarettes.