The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the tobacco industry’s appeal of a Florida ruling that may help thousands of smokers sue cigarette makers over smoking-related illnesses.
The nation’s highest court today turned away arguments by Altria Group Inc. (MO)’s Philip Morris USA, Reynolds American Inc. (RAI)’s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Vector Group Ltd. (VGR)’s Liggett unit. They challenged a $2.5 million award to the family of Charlotte Douglas, who died in 2008 of lung cancer at age 62.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly declined to intervene in tobacco litigation in Florida, where more than 4,500 smoker suits are pending. So far, Florida juries have returned verdicts totaling more than $500 million against the industry, the companies said in their appeal.
Cigarette makers 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 suits. The Florida high court reaffirmed that ruling in the Douglas case.
At the U.S. Supreme Court, the tobacco companies said they were being deprived of their constitutional right to due process of law.
“It is impossible to conclude with any certainty in any of these cases that any jury in any proceeding has ever decided all the elements of the plaintiff’s claims in his or her favor,” the companies contended in their appeal.
Douglas’s widower, James, urged the Supreme Court to reject the appeal. The industry “has already been given every opportunity to litigate its class-wide claims and defenses” and “enjoys every opportunity to litigate the individual claims and defenses before a judgment is finally rendered,” Douglas argued.
Philip Morris, the biggest U.S. cigarette maker, is based in Richmond, Virginia. No. 2 Reynolds is based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
The case is Philip Morris v. Douglas, 13-191.
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