R.J. Reynolds Loses Bid to Fight Smoker’s Verdict in High Court

The U.S. Supreme Court won’t review a $28.3 million wrongful death verdict against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., declining to consider legal questions that may affect thousands of similar cases by smokers and their families.

Reynolds, a unit of Winston Salem, North Carolina-based Reynolds American Inc. (RAI), is the second-biggest U.S. tobacco company.

Reynolds American Inc.

Reynolds American Inc. Logo

The court today left intact the verdict in a case filed in the wake of a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision that lets plaintiffs in cigarette-liability suits use factual findings by a jury in an earlier case to prove their claims. Reynolds, Altria Group Inc. and other U.S. cigarette makers claim Florida trial judges are applying the findings too broadly, depriving them of their right to defend themselves in court.

“The Florida state courts are engaged in serial due- process violations that threaten the defendants with literally billions of dollars of liability,” Reynolds said in a brief seeking review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In its 2006 ruling, Florida’s highest court decertified a statewide class action and threw out a $145 billion punitive damage verdict against the industry. At the same time, the court endorsed many jury findings in the case, including that the companies were negligent, conspired to hide information about the dangers of smoking and sold defective products.

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