Florida District Court Of Appeals Reverses Mack

Reynolds American will be granted a new trial

Melissa Vonder Haar, Freelance Writer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- In an opinion filed on June 13th, Florida’s First District Court of Appeals (DCA) found that that the appellant, Reynolds American of Winston-Salem, N.C., was entitled to a new trial in the case of R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company v. Mack. While the 1st DCA did not find fault in the reliance on the findings of the Engle v. Liggett Group,Inc. case, it faulted the trial court for excluding alternative causation evidence presented by Reynolds American.

Although Reynolds American could still lose at retrial, the analysts at Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. see this as a significant move for Florida’s 1st DCA, which has been notoriously hostile towards tobacco defendants. In a June 15th Industry Update on the ruling, analysts stated “this is a helpful ruling in that it puts a higher burden on plaintiffs, helps level the playing field from a broader Engle perspective, and may signal lower trial courts about allowing industry defenses. In essence, it is a rejection of the idea that the original Engle findings do all the work for plaintiffs except apportioning fault and determining damage amounts.”

The ruling is a distinct departure from the 1st DCA’s 2010 decision in R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company v. Martin, where the court found the plaintiff only had to prove that addiction to cigarettes caused Martin's death, but did not need to prove that the industry's conduct was a legal cause of that injury. Since then, other courts have disagreed and ruled that plaintiffs must prove legal causation.

Deutsche Bank Securities Inc.’s Industry Update also noted the interesting timing of this ruling, given the fact that it was announced so soon after Florida’s Supreme Court’s decision to hear the appeal of Philip Morris USA, Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and Liggett Group, LLC, v. James L. Douglas. This is the first progeny suit that the Florida Supreme Court has agreed to hear and, depending on the ruling, could increase the plaintiff burden in other Engle progeny trials.

Regardless of how the various courts rule in the Mack and Douglas cases, those in the industry see Florida’s acknowledgement that defendants must be allowed to put on a full defense and challenge plaintiff causation theories as a step in the right direction.