TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A case before the Florida Supreme Court could make it harder for Floridians to sue tobacco companies for damages.
The case centers around whether smokers have to point to a specific misleading statement that led them to believe smoking was safe and whether findings from a previous class action lawsuit can be used in other cases.
John Price started smoking at 12 years old and died from a lung disease in 2010 at the age of 74.
“Had John Price known the truth, would he have acted differently?” said attorney Celene Humphries, who is representing the Price estate.
Humphries contends that Price’s death was the result of a conspiracy by R.J. Reynolds, a major tobacco company, to conceal information about the dangers of smoking.
“The cigarette companies actively suppressed scientific studies on the truth,” Humphries said.
But an appeals court overturned an initial ruling in favor of the Price estate, arguing that the plaintiffs failed to point to a specific statement that misled Price about the dangers of tobacco use.
The Price estate’s attorney argued that while there wasn’t a specific statement that misled him, his smoking behavior shows that he was influenced by tobacco company misinformation campaigns.
“When the defendants marketed filters, filtered cigarettes, as safer — which they’re not, they’re more harmful — he responded,” Humphries said. “He followed their recommendation.”
R.J. Reynolds is not only asking the Florida Supreme Court to uphold the appeals court’s decision but also to reverse a 2006 ruling that established findings on the dangers of smoking and misinformation efforts of cigarette makers.
“Our jury had to assume all of that conclusively and we couldn’t dispute it,” said attorney Michael Carvin, who represents R.J. Reynolds.
The now entirely Republican-appointed court has shown a willingness to stray from previous court precedents. If it does so in this case, thousands of pending tobacco lawsuits could be impacted.
The lower court initially awarded the Price estate $6.4 million in damages, but this case’s potential impact on tobacco companies’ wallets is likely to be in the hundreds of millions.