Florida Jury Awards Billion Dollar Damage in Defective Products Case
Last week, a Florida jury made record breaking news when it awarded billions of dollars to the widow of a deceased tobacco smoker. According to a report by CNN, the jury determined that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company should pay the woman $23.6 billion in punitive damages, in addition to more than $16 million in compensatory damages.
The case began as part of a class action lawsuit, in which a jury awarded the plaintiffs $145 billion in damages. The verdict in the case was overturned in 2006, but the door was reportedly opened for individual lawsuits by the allegedly injured parties. The widow initially filed with the court in 2008, arguing that RJ Reynolds negligently failed to inform smokers about the addictive nature of nicotine, as well as the connection between smoking and lung cancer. After years of preparation, a four week trial and more than 10 hours of deliberation, the jury returned the verdict against RJ Reynolds. The company’s assistant general counsel reportedly called the verdict “grossly excessive and impermissible under state and constitutional law.” Appeals and post-trial motions are expected in the case.
Types of Damages
In Florida liability law, damages are awarded in response to some level of wrong-doing by a defendant. There are several types of possible damage awards, including:
- Compensatory – These awards are meant to compensate for monetary losses, such as loss of income, medical bills, repair bills, etc. Compensatory damages are awarded to make the plaintiff “whole again.” Theoretically, the damage amount will place the plaintiff in the monetary position they would be in had the harm or loss never occurred:
○ Economic– Compensates for monetary losses (may include past, present and future losses). These damages are easily measurable.
○ Non-economic – Compensates for pain and suffering resulting from the harm. These are harder to calculate, but larger injuries usually result in larger non-economic damage awards.
- Punitive – These awards are meant to punish the defendant for some wrong-doing or act of malice. They are also awarded for the purpose of deterring others from acting in a similar manner.
According to a report byReuters, legal professionals are doubtful that the punitive damages award will hold up on appeal. Historically, the U.S. Supreme Court has been reluctant to allow such large punitive awards, generally preferring a ratio less than 10:1 when comparing punitive and compensatory damages.
The victim in this case was a 36-year-old man who died in 1996. He reportedly began smoking cigarettes at the age of 13-years-old and smoked two packs a day for more than two decades. His widow’s lawsuit centered on a product liability claim, which generally asserts that the maker of a product failed to meet a duty owed to its customers. Product liability breaches may take the form of a defective product or, as in the tobacco case, a failure to warn customers about known dangers.
If you or a loved one has been injured by a product, contact the legal team at Pita & Del Prado in Miami for knowledgeable and skillful representation. Call the office today at 305-670-2889 for a free consultation.