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Florida Supreme Court rules Ok to sue the tobacco industry for punitive damages (News Service of Florida, Jim Saunders)

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In a defeat for the tobacco industry, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday opened cigarette makers to more potential punitive damages in lawsuits stemming from smokers’ illnesses or deaths.

The ruling came in an Alachua County case that involved the 1992 death of a smoker, but it also would apply to other tobacco lawsuits that have flooded the legal system during the past decade. Those lawsuits are known in the legal world as “Engle progeny” cases and are an outgrowth of a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision that established crucial findings about the dangers of smoking and misrepresentation by cigarette makers.

Resolving conflicting decisions from lower courts, the Supreme Court on Thursday found that plaintiffs in the cases can seek punitive damages against tobacco companies based on legal claims of negligence and strict liability. In doing so, the court rejected the arguments of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., which said punitive damages should be limited to issues involving concealment and conspiracy, because the original Engle lawsuit did not include punitive damages for negligence and strict liability.

In its ruling Thursday, the Supreme Court sent the Soffer case back to circuit court for a trial limited to whether punitive damages should be awarded on the negligence and strict-liability claims. “We emphasize that Soffer still must satisfy the statutory requirements to demonstrate entitlement to punitive damages under these theories, including that the trier of fact must find, based on clear and convincing evidence, that R.J. Reynolds was ‘personally guilty of intentional misconduct or gross negligence,’ ” Pariente wrote, quoting part of state law.

Read full NBC4Jax story.