A state appeals court Wednesday overturned a ruling that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. should pay $2 million in punitive damages in a case involving a smoker who suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Lloyd Spurlock filed the lawsuit in Palm Beach County and made a series of allegations against R.J. Reynolds because of the smoking-related illness.
Spurlock died amid the lawsuit, with his wife substituted as the plaintiff, according to Wednesday’s ruling by a panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal. A jury ultimately awarded $540,915 in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages.
But R.J. Reynolds argued in the appeal that the jury was improperly allowed to consider a conspiracy allegation in awarding punitive damages. A judge issued what is known as a directed verdict in favor of R.J. Reynolds on the allegation of conspiracy to commit fraud by concealment.
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The appeals court agreed that the circuit judge had improperly allowed evidence related to the conspiracy claim in determining punitive damages and that a new proceeding should be held.
“The trial court allowed the jury to consider evidence of the conspiracy in determining both the entitlement to, and amount of, punitive damages even though the trial court ultimately determined the conspiracy did not cause the decedent’s injury as a matter of law,” said the panel ruling, written by Judge Melanie May and joined by Judges Cory Ciklin and Ed Artau. “In its closing argument, the plaintiff repeatedly emphasized the conspiracy evidence and urged the jury to award punitive damages.
The plaintiff’s counsel told the jurors they should consider conspiratorial conduct in deciding entitlement to punitive damages. In short, a reasonable probability exists that the jury awarded punitive damages because it considered the conspiracy evidence when determining punitive damages.”
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