Daytona Beach Personal Injury Lawyers
Free Consultations 386.258.1622

Florida Second DCA rules that pre-1999 punitive damages statute applies to Engle-progeny wrongful death tobacco case, certifying conflict with Florida Fifth DCA

On March 3, 2021, in R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company v. Jones, No. 2D19-3537, the Florida Second DCA affirmed a judgment for the plaintiff in an Engle-progeny wrongful death action against the defendant tobacco company. The plaintiff was awarded $250,000 in compensatory damages and $3.25 million in punitive damages. On appeal, the defendant claimed that the trial court erred in applying and instructing the jury on the pre-1999 punitive damages statute, Fla. Stat. section 768.73. The defendant contended that the more restrictive version of the statute, amended in 1999, should apply to the plaintiffs' claims in this case because it "applie[s] to all causes of action arising after the effective date of the act," §768.73(5), Fla. Stat. (1999-2020), and the wrongful death cause of action arose upon the decedent's death in 2000. In accordance with the Second DCA’s previous decision in R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Evers, 232 So. 3d 457 (Fla. 2d DCA 2017), the Court rejected this argument, instead holding that the wrongful death complaint related back to the date of the Engle class-action complaint because the plaintiff's right to file the wrongful death action wasbased on the decedent's status as an Engle class member. The Second DCA noted that the First and Fourth DCAs agreed with this interpretation, see R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Allen, 228 So. 3d 684 (Fla. 1st DCA 2017) and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Konzelman, 248 So. 3d 134, 135 (Fla 4th DCA 2018), but the Fifth DCA reached the contrary conclusion in R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Sheffield, 266 So. 3d 1230 (Fla. 5th DCA 2019), review granted, No. SC19-601 (Fla. Aug. 13, 2020). The Second DCA certified conflict with Sheffield.