Supreme Court OKs $20-Million Smoker Award

Leaves door open for additional lawsuits in Florida

Published in CSP Daily News

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court let stand a $20 million award against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and a second cigarette maker, rebuffing the tobacco industry’s latest effort to derail thousands of Florida lawsuits, according to a Bloomberg report.

The justices on Monday refused to hear a joint appeal from R.J. Reynolds and Vector Group Ltd.’s Liggett unit. A jury said the two companies were responsible for the death of Janie Mae Clay, who smoked for 40 years and died in 2003 of lung disease.

Tobacco companies are seeking to limit the effect of a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision, which said a jury’s factual findings against the industry in a class-action case could serve as the starting point for individual lawsuits. Cigarette makers say Florida trial judges are applying the findings too broadly, depriving the companies of their right to defend themselves, according to the report.

About 8,000 plaintiffs have cases pending in Florida courts, Reynolds and Liggett said in their appeals. About 65 of those cases have gone to trial, with total awards surpassing $300 million.

The Supreme Court rejected a group of company appeals raising similar arguments in March.

R.J. Reynolds, the second-largest U.S. tobacco company, is a unit of Reynolds American Inc.