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Florida high court rejects record tobacco punitive damages award

[JURIST] The Florida Supreme Court [official website] on Thursday rejected [opinion, PDF] a record-setting jury verdict that had awarded $145 billion in punitive damages in a class action challenge brought by smokers [JURIST report] against tobacco companies. The Court vacated the punitive damages award, unanimously concluding it was "excessive as a matter of law."

Tobacco companies, including Philip Morris USA, a unit of Altria Group, and Reynolds American Inc.'s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco [corporate websites] appealed the trial court decision to a state appeals court, saying that the punitive damages award - the largest in US history - would bankrupt the companies. The Florida Third District Court of Appeal [official website] threw out the punitive damages award in 2003, ruling that the early certification of the case as a class action on behalf of 300,000 to 700,000 ill Floridians was a mistake. The Florida high court granted review [JURIST report] and heard oral arguments [transcript] in 2004. Lawyers for the ill smokers had asked the Florida Supreme Court to reinstate their class action verdict, but the high court upheld the Third Circuit's decertification as well. In the per curiam decision, the Court stated, "individual causation and apportionment of fault among the defendants[,] are highly individualized and do not led themselves to class action treatment," and remanded the case without prejudice for individual cases. AP has more.

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