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Florida Third DCA affirms directed verdict for defendant on issue of punitive damages related to plaintiff’s non-intentional tort claims; finds that plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence that decedent relied on tobacco companies’ misrepresentations

On December 16, 2020, in Hardin v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, No. 3D18-0958, the Florida Third DCA affirmed a trial court’s directed verdict in favor of the defendant in an Engle-progeny tobacco case.  The plaintiff had prevailed at trial on her strict liability and negligence claims, but the jury returned a defense verdict on the plaintiff’s intentional tort claims, finding that the decedent smoker did not rely on any statement made by R.J. Reynolds or any other tobacco company.  An earlier appeal had resulted in a remand to the trial court for a new trial limited to the issue of punitive damages for the plaintiff’s non-intentional tort claims.  The second jury was bound by the first jury’s finding that the decedent did not rely on any statements by R.J. Reynolds or any other tobacco company. Consequently, although the plaintiff’s expert at the second trial presented evidence that tobacco companies engaged in a campaign of mass deception and fraud, this generic evidence of misconduct was not related to Plaintiff’s surviving claims, which were not-intentional tort claims.  The Third DCA concluded that the plaintiff failed to present sufficient evidence that R.J. Reynolds was engaged in misconduct that was related to her claims and that was a substantial cause of the decedent’s COPD and death.