In July of this year, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals released an opinion in the case of Reider v. Phillip Morris USA, Inc., ruling that the plaintiff did not properly preserve her objection to the jury’s verdict, which awarded her no damages despite finding the tobacco company Phillip Morris was partially responsible for her husband’s death. The Court’s decision focused on the jurisdictional requirement of preservation of issues for an appeal, which the plaintiff had not properly done. If the plaintiff had properly objected after the verdict was given, or properly filed the appropriate post-trial motion, she may have been given a new trial and collected damages for the tobacco-related death of her husband. Although the plaintiff was defeated in this case, other tobacco users and their families may be able to collect damages against tobacco companies by filing a Florida wrongful death lawsuit in federal district court.
The plaintiff’s case against Phillip Morris accused the tobacco company of fraudulent concealment, conspiracy, negligence, and strict liability in contributing toward the 1995 death of her husband, who started smoking in 1968. The case stems from a 1996 class action lawsuit, Engle v. Liggett Group, in which all injured smokers in Florida who started smoking before 1996 were allowed to file suit against tobacco companies based on their lies about the dangers and addictiveness of smoking.
The Florida Supreme Court later decertified the class, which eviscerated the class action lawsuit but left an opening for individual victims to file personal injury, wrongful death, or product liability actions against the tobacco companies under the same legal theory, which is exactly what the plaintiff here did. After a four-day trial, the jury came back with a verdict that Phillip Morris was partially responsible for her husband’s death, but it determined that she was not entitled to any monetary damages. The woman appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.