by Joe Wilhelm Jr.
After two days of deliberating, a six-person Clay County jury brought a two-week trial to an end Monday by unanimously voting in favor of the defense in Allen Olivia v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
“The jury appropriately decided the company was not responsible for the plaintiff’s decision about whether to smoke or when to quit,” said Murray Garnick, associate general counsel, speaking on behalf of Philip Morris USA, which was also a defendant in the case.
It was the first Engle Progeny case to be heard in Clay County and the only that has been scheduled, according to presiding Judge Aaron Bowden.
Engle Progeny cases are the result of a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision that decertified a class action but allowed former class action members to file individual lawsuits and rely on general findings from the first class action.
“Although Philip Morris USA won this trial, we continue to believe that the trial courts are violating Florida law and due process by allowing the plaintiffs to rely on general findings from a previous jury with no connection to the specific circumstances of these cases,” said Garnick.
The original decision in 1998 awarded plaintiffs $145 billion in punitive damages, but an appeals court overturned the decision, which lead to the Florida Supreme Court decision after the plaintiffs petitioned to be heard by the court.
Appeals are part of the legal process and the case may see an appellate courtroom.
“We respect the jury’s verdict, but we feel the tobacco companies didn’t feel like they could win this case on the merits, so they engaged in some character assassination of the plaintiff,” said attorney Adam Trop, representing the plaintiffs.
“We think that was improper and we intend to appeal that and other grounds,” he said.