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Eleventh Circuit reverses judgment for plaintiff in tobacco litigation case after concluding that plaintiff was not entitled to Engle class liability findings

On November 20, 2020, in Harris v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, et al., No. 19-11907, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a judgment for the plaintiff in an Engle-progeny tobacco case.  The trial court had determined that the plaintiff was entitled to the Engle class jury findings that in manufacturing and marketing nicotine-based cigarettes the tobacco companies engaged in tortious misconduct. See Engle v. Liggett Grp., Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 (Fla. 2006). To qualify for these liability findings, a plaintiff must show, among other things, that the smoker suffered from a medical condition that both (1) was caused by cigarette addiction and (2) manifested on or before the Engle class cut-off date—November 21, 1996. The jury found that one of the tobacco smoker decedent’s conditions, oral cavity cancer, was caused by cigarette addiction but did not manifest on or before the class cut-off date and that the other condition, heart disease, manifested on or before the class cut-off date but was not caused by cigarette addiction.  Under these circumstances, the Eleventh Circuit concluded that the trial court erred in giving the plaintiff the benefit of the Engle class liability findings, and without these findings the plaintiff failed to prove the essential elements of her claims.