RICHMOND, Va.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Philip Morris USA said today it will seek appellate review of a jury verdict awarding $8 million in total damages to the family of a former smoker.
“Today’s verdict was the result of an unconstitutional and profoundly flawed trial procedure. Fundamental fairness requires the plaintiff to establish basic liability before a jury can award damages,” said Murray Garnick, Altria Client Services senior vice president and associate general counsel, speaking on behalf of Philip Morris USA. “The trial court failed to do that in this case and instead improperly relied on findings by a prior jury in the Engle class action that have no direct connection with the deceased smoker,” said Garnick. The Florida Supreme Court decertified the class in Engle but allowed individual former class members to file suit.
Garnick said that this case was the first case tried to verdict since the Florida Supreme Court’s decision out of a number of cases brought in Florida federal and state courts relying on the Engle findings. Garnick also said that every federal district court that has addressed the issue has held that reliance on the Engle findings instead of individual proof establishing a claim violates due process. Approximately 4,000 claims, or roughly half of those filed in the wake of the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in the Engle case, are pending in federal court and have been put on hold pending a federal appeals court review of the constitutional issues arising from such trial procedures.
Of the $8 million awarded by the jury, $5 million was for punitive damages. “The punitive damage verdict is constitutionally flawed,” said Garnick. “We plan to challenge the verdict in the trial court, and, if necessary, on appeal,” Garnick said.
The company will ask the court to set aside the punitive award and to reduce the remaining $3 million compensatory award, based on the jury’s findings in today’s verdict.
“We will vigorously defend each of these cases, which will turn on the facts unique to each plaintiff. We do not believe today’s verdict is predictive of outcomes in future cases,” said Garnick. “This case was selected by plaintiffs’ lawyers from among thousands of others to be the first tried presumably because they believed it was their best case,” said Garnick.
The case is Hess v. Philip Morris USA.