Philip Morris wins appeal in Jacksonville smoker's death
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Rejecting arguments that a jury improperly reached a "compromise" verdict, a federal appeals court Wednesday cleared Philip Morris USA from potential damages in the smoking-related death of a Jacksonville man.
A Duval County jury last year found the tobacco company was 5 percent liable in the death of Robert Reider but did not award damages to Reider's widow, Barbara. In an appeal, Barbara Reider's attorneys argued that the jury had reached an "unlawful compromise" in the decision.
"The verdict in this case is without sense and should be overturned,'' Reider's attorneys wrote in a brief filed last year in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. "The jury concluded that Philip Morris was liable for Mr. Reider's death -- yet refused to award a single cent of damages to his widow."
But a three-judge panel of the appeals court Wednesday said Reider's attorneys had not raised objections about a compromise verdict in federal district court and, instead, had raised a different legal claim about an "inconsistent" verdict.
"Here, Ms. Reider did not put the district court on notice that she was objecting on compromise verdict grounds,'' the appeals court said in upholding a district judge's decision. "The district court reasonably (and correctly, we think) interpreted her objection as an inconsistent verdict claim."
The Reider case is one of thousands filed against tobacco companies in Florida by sick smokers or their surviving relatives. The cases, known as Engle progeny cases, have flooded courts since the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 established critical findings about the health dangers of smoking and misrepresentation by cigarette makers.
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