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Brannock Humphries & Berman Obtains Affirmance Of Multimillion-Dollar Jury Verdict

Less than 48 hours after a virtual oral argument held via Zoom, the Fourth District Court of Appeal upheld, without comment, a Broward County jury’s award of $20 million in compensatory and punitive damages to the surviving spouse of a woman who died of lung cancer after smoking for over forty years.

The case stems from the landmark Engle class-action lawsuit filed against major tobacco companies, including the defendants, R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris.  At trial, the plaintiff presented evidence that his wife was heavily addicted to cigarettes, smoking up to two packs per day.  She tried to quit numerous times but was unable to stop until being diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in 1994.  After suffering through years of pain and the loss of her mental capacities and motor skills, she passed away in 1999 at the age of sixty-nine.  She and the plaintiff were married for forty-four years.

When the case finally went to trial almost two decades later, the jury found that the cigarette companies were negligent and strictly liable for her death, and that they had conspired together to fraudulently conceal the known dangers of smoking.  Following entry of the $20 million judgment, which included $8 million in compensatory damages for the plaintiff, $7 million in punitive damages against R.J. Reynolds, and $5 million in punitive damages against Philip Morris, the cigarette companies appealed.  Their challenges centered on allegations of misconduct against the plaintiff’s trial counsel—improper opening statements, improper questions to witnesses, and improper closing arguments.  They also raised a handful of challenges to the instructions given to the jury.

Brannock Humphries & Berman took the lead in responding to the appellate arguments, methodically debunking the companies’ claims of attorney misconduct and instructional error.  With the courthouse still closed due to the coronovirus pandemic, the Fourth District held oral argument via Zoom.  And, just two days later, the appellate court fully sided with Brannock Humphries & Berman, upholding the $20 million jury verdict and judgment via a per curiam affirmance.