Florida Supreme Court Uphold Original Verdict in Favor of Smoker
Philip M. Marotta was just 12 years old when he started smoking in 1959. Sadly, after 35 years of smoking two to three packs a day of R.J. Reynolds cigarettes, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away at the age of 47. His son, Philip Marotta, filed suit as an Engle progeny plaintiff against R.J. Reynolds and other tobacco companies. He claimed that his father’s addiction to cigarettes caused his death by lung cancer. Mr. Marotta, represented by lawyers Philip Freidin of Freidin Brown, P.A., and Alex Alvarez of The Alvarez Law Firm, successfully argued a strict liability claim on behalf of his father by relying on the original Engle jury’s findings, which stated that cigarettes sold by Defendant R.J. Reynolds were defective and dangerous. The Broward County Jury awarded compensatory damages of $6 million.
This case is part of the Engle class action, Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 (2006), which was decertified after trial and a $145 billion dollar verdict. The Florida Supreme Court instructed class members to instead individually pursue claims using the factual findings from the original Engle trial. Those findings conclusively established common elements of class members’ claims such as (1) smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer and COPD among other diseases, and (2) nicotine in cigarettes is addictive. They also found that tobacco companies manufactured and sold defective products that were unreasonably dangerous and that tobacco companies were negligent and conspired to hide material information. There are still thousands of Engle progeny cases pending throughout the state of Florida.
In January 2016, the Fourth District Court of Appeals upheld the trial verdict in favor of Mr. Marotta. The Fourth DCA asked the Florida Supreme Court to decide whether federal law blocks lawsuits in state courts by plaintiffs alleging liability and negligence by the tobacco companies. The Florida Supreme Court accepted the case and held that federal law does not preempt state law tort claims of strict liability and negligence by Engle progeny plaintiffs. The Florida Supreme Court also sent the Marotta case back to Broward to try the Punitive damages claim in 2018.