Vero Beach, FL—A jury this afternoon found tobacco manufacturers R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris liable for possible punitive damages to the surviving husband of a long-time smoker in his Engle progeny tobacco suit. However, the jury refused to award compensatory damages to the plaintiff, Robert Gore, casting doubt on whether compensatory damages are required for a punitive award. Robert Gore v. R.J. Reynolds.
After more than four hours of deliberations in Robert Gore’s suit against the tobacco manufacturers, jurors found in favor of Gore on the threshold questions of Engle class membership. Among other issues, the verdict declared that Gore's wife Gloria was addicted to cigarettes and that her smoking caused the lung cancer that ultimately killed her. However, the jury apportioned 80% of the responsibility to Gloria, while finding Philip Morris 15% responsible and R.J. Reynolds liable for the remaining 5%.
Notably, the jury awarded no compensatory damages to Gore, while still finding that the defendants were liable for punitive damages, set to be calculated in the second phase of trial.
After publication of the verdict, counsel argued whether an award of compensatory damages was a prerequisite to punitive liability. Stephen Corr, Gore’s attorney, contended the Florida Supreme Court decision in Engle v. Liggett Group allowed for punitive damages without a compensatory award. "The safest thing for Your Honor to do is to allow the punitive phase to go forward," Corr said. "If we discharge the jury, we're never going to get to the bottom of it."
However, Robert McCarter, representing Philip Morris, contended that the Florida 4th District Court of Appeals has interpreted the state supreme court's language in Engle as requiring a compensatory award prior to punitive damages.
Judge Cynthia Cox recessed for the evening before deciding the issue tomorrow. Proceedings will resume tomorrow morning at 9 a.m.