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December 12, 2018

King & Spalding Client RJ Reynolds Obtains Appellate Victory on Punitive Damages in Florida

The Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed a punitive damages award against King & Spalding client R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, holding that a tort reform statute enacted in 1999 barred the plaintiff’s request for punitive damages because RJ Reynolds has paid punitive damages in prior cases and the statute prohibits repetitive claims for punitive damages when multiple cases allege harm arising from the same course of conduct. 

The Fourth District’s December 12, 2018, decision marked the first time that an appellate court has found the 1999 statute applicable to an Engle progeny tobacco lawsuit, which was filed in 2008 after the original Engle class action was prospectively decertified by the Florida Supreme Court and putative class members were given one year to file individual lawsuits in which certain jury findings made during the Engle class action trial would have res judicata effect.  In so ruling, the Fourth District rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that all Engle cases are governed by the law in effect at the time the original Engle class action was filed in 1994 or certified in 1996.  Instead of looking at the original class action, the Fourth District agreed with R.J. Reynolds’s position that the analysis must focus on the facts of each individual progeny suit, specifically the date of the decedent’s death and when the disease that caused her death manifested itself—which in this case both occurred after the Oct. 1, 1999 effective date of the tort reform statute. According to this new ruling, Engle cases with a similar posture are governed by the 1999 statute, which means that punitive damages will not be available in those cases.  

The case is R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company v. Martin, No. 4D17-574