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Brannock & Humphries Wins New Trial In Tobacco Row

The Fourth District Court of Appeal disapproved a misleading jury instruction today, awarding a Brannock & Humphries client a new trial in her lawsuit against tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris.

The plaintiff is the surviving wife of a nicotine addict who contracted lung cancer after decades of cigarette smoking.  She sued Philip Morris, asserting product liability claims for designing and manufacturing defective cigarettes, and claims of fraud and conspiracy for participating in a 50-year campaign to deceive the public about the harmfulness of cigarette smoking.

At trial, the plaintiff supported her fraud-based claims by testifying that Philip Morris’s advertisements for Parliament cigarettes had deceived her husband into believing they were safe to smoke.  But the trial court cut the legs out from under her fraud claims, by giving the jury a confusingly-worded instruction that, until now, had been routinely given by many trial judges.  That instruction appears to say that a tobacco company cannot be held liable for making fraudulent claims in its cigarette advertisements—which is simply untrue.  Even worse, Philip Morris’s lawyer told the jury in closing argument that the instruction meant exactly that.

The misleading jury instruction and closing argument had their intended effect:  the jury rejected the plaintiff’s claims of fraud and conspiracy.  But thanks to the advocacy of Brannock & Humphries, the Fourth District Court of Appeal disapproved the jury instruction and awarded the plaintiff a new trial.  The elimination of that misleading jury instruction will help ensure that plaintiffs in future tobacco trials will be able to have their fraud-based claims decided fairly.