Appeals Court Tosses $23 Billion Escambia County Tobacco Verdict

February 27, 2017

In a sharply worded ruling, a state appeals court has ordered a new trial in the death of a smoker whose estate initially won a more than $23 billion verdict in Escambia County against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal, in an 18-page ruling, blasted an attorney for the estate of Michael Johnson Sr., pointing to the “depth and pervasiveness” of improper closing arguments in the Escambia County case.

“It is clear from the record that Robinson’s trial strategy was to utterly vilify their opponent,” appeals-court Judge Thomas Winokur wrote, referring to the personal representative of the estate named in the lawsuit.

“In addition to accusing opposing counsel of participation in a scheme of deception, counsel for Robinson denigrated Reynolds as an unrepentant, anti-military, criminal predator, whom the jury must fight and destroy.” The jury initially awarded nearly $16.9 million in compensatory damages and $23.6 billion in punitive damages.

But the trial judge later tossed out the punitive-damages award as excessive and ordered a new trial for R.J. Reynolds on punitive damages. The ruling will require a new trial on the overall issues in the case, not just punitive damages.

“This case concerns the boundaries of proper closing argument,” Winokur wrote, in a ruling joined by judges Brad Thomas and Harvey Jay. “Plaintiff’s counsel crossed those boundaries repeatedly, flagrantly, and often in defiance of the trial court’s admonishments. The depth and pervasiveness of these improper arguments compel reversal of this case for new trial.”

The case is one of thousands in Florida that are known as “Engle progeny” cases. Such cases are linked to a 2006 Supreme Court ruling that established critical findings about the health dangers of smoking and misrepresentation by cigarette makers.


11 Responses to “Appeals Court Tosses $23 Billion Escambia County Tobacco Verdict”

  1. David Huie Green on March 2nd, 2017 9:47 am

    “Smoker or not…you still die”

    Although, statistically speaking, smoker dies sooner and more miserably and at great cost.

    That first puff is a choice, a choice to become a slave to addiction. Having made that choice and achieved the addiction, let the addict have his or her dope but don’t help him sue his supplier since he knew he was heading down a Dead End path.

    David for live long and prosper

  2. Don Neese on February 28th, 2017 2:39 pm

    Smoker or not…you still die :)

  3. Dennis on February 27th, 2017 6:23 pm

    I guess Levin will have to stop bragging about it on tv.

  4. Billy Preston on February 27th, 2017 4:25 pm

    I think that tobacco companies need to be litigated out if existence. It’s obvious they target young, impressionable people with deceiving ads, showing healthy, vibrant people smoking in their ads. I remember one ad with young, beautiful people in bikinis and swim suits on a beach playing with a beach ball with cigarettes between their fingers. The message was “Smoking is fun.” Cigarettes are the only product I know that, used the way they are intended, will eventually kill you. You can use dynamite, firearms, power tools, high voltage, etc. the proper was and be perfectly safe. But you suck down that cigarette smoke long enough and you’re gonna get heart and/or lung disease or cancer. The only difference between a tobacco executive and a drug lord is one has legal protection to sell poison.

  5. Sharon on February 27th, 2017 1:26 pm

    It’s a choice, just as other things in life are. It not somebody’s fault at the choices you make .

  6. Retired on February 27th, 2017 12:14 pm

    It is becoming apparently clear to me who the criminals are. The defense attorneys, stupid jurors and incompetent judges.

  7. sue everone on February 27th, 2017 11:37 am

    I guess all the stupid people can sue the school system for not making them smart.

  8. anne 1of2 on February 27th, 2017 10:49 am

    These lawsuits against the tobacco companies make no sense at all. Liquor is just as bad and I don’t see any lawsuits against them Want to open a real can of worms? Let’s sue the drug companies every time a family member dies 2 days after starting a new medication.The list goes on and on and on. If you put it in your mouth, don’t blame the corporations as they have warnings on every thing but a grilled cheese sandwich!.

  9. NO Excuses on February 27th, 2017 9:34 am

    @ Jay – I’m with you. I’ve NEVER smoked, even though I had many opportunities to pick up a pack and start. It was a personal choice to listen to the information about how bad it was for you and not give in to peer pressure and join in with others who thought they were cool and start smoking.

    These lawsuits putting the blame on the company are silly, and they have opened the doors to lawsuits against fast food chains and other businesses that provide services for people who have little to no self-control, or, who may suffer from poor judgment. they then abuse these services and want to point the finger at anyone but themselves. Don’t want cancer from smoking? Don’t start! Or, quit.

  10. Lisa Fuller on February 27th, 2017 9:22 am

    The original verdict and damages award by the jury are why we’re living in the litigious society we have today. People have never been forced to smoke. It is a personal choice. There are clear warnings printed on every pack of cigarettes. Once the person makes a decision to smoke, the liability for what happens after that is on the person, not the tobacco company. But in our society, nobody wants to take responsibility for their own actions and the consquences that follow. They just sue someone who they think can afford to settle out of court and turn a tragedy into a huge windfall for themselves. More than that, the damages award were ridiculous. Let’s assume the man who died from smoking earned $100,000 per year. Maybe his work life was shortened by 10 years, or let’s be generous and say 20 years. That’s $2 million lost in potential earnings–nowhere near the $16 million the jury awarded for actual damages. Then punitive damages of $23 billion? That’s absurd.

  11. Jay on February 27th, 2017 6:51 am

    R.J.Reynolds innocent ,, as a ex smoker no one ever forced me to smoke them, I done it out of peer presure and enjoyed it, If I was ever on a jurier in a case such as this i’d always find guilt on the person sueing not the tabacco company