Miami, FL— A Florida appellate court last week upheld a $7.25 million award for the heart disease jurors found was caused by a decades-long addiction to R.J. Reynolds cigarettes.
In an opinion by Judge Fleur J. Lobree, the three-judge panel of the state’s Third District Court of Appeal upheld the 2018 jury award to Paul Rouse, who was forced to undergo a heart bypass surgery in 1999, when he was 45 years old.
Rouse claims his heart disease was caused by decades of smoking and RJR’s participation in a conspiracy to hide the dangers of cigarettes through much of the 20th century. The case was part of Florida’s so-called Engle progeny litigation, thousands of cases spun from a decertified class action against the nation’s tobacco companies. Engle progeny plaintiffs such as Rouse are entitled to the benefit of the original Engle jury’s findings if they can prove they were individually affected.
RJR argued on appeal that the Rouse trial court erred in denying its motion for a directed verdict on the conspiracy claim. On review, the court noted that because the original Engle jury’s findings that tobacco companies, including RJR, had conspired to hide the dangers of smoking, Rouse was only required to show that he relied to his detriment on statements made in furtherance of the claimed conspiracy and that his reliance caused his heart disease.
But the court reasoned that Rouse was not required to show that he relied on any specific statement related to the conspiracy. “Florida courts have long recognized that to prevail on a conspiracy claim in an Engle-progeny case, a plaintiff does not have to categorically demonstrate reliance on a specific statement from RJR or another co-conspirator made in furtherance of their agreement,” Judge Lobree wrote.
Judge Lobree concluded Rouse presented sufficient evidence to avoid a directed verdict against him. “Not only did Rouse present evidence that he was exposed throughout his life to the tobacco companies’ broad-based misleading advertising campaign, he also testified that his decision to smoke Winston filtered cigarettes was influenced by the way the tobacco companies promoted filtered cigarettes in their advertisements,” she wrote. “From this evidence, a reasonable jury could have inferred that Rouse might have never started smoking Winston filtered cigarettes or would have quit earlier had he known true facts about filtered cigarettes.”
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