U.S. Eleventh Circuit - The FindLaw 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Deceased Smoker's $20M Judgment Reinstated

A recent Engle-progeny case decided by the Eleventh Circuit is making headlines as Phillip Morris and RJ Reynolds just had a $20 plus million judgment reinstated by an appellate panel.

Sadly, the plaintiff's estate had to bring the appeal as the plaintiff, Judith Berger, passed. Notably though, Mrs. Berger did testify at trial, and won. Unfortunately, during a post-judgment motion, the court vacated the $20 million in punitive damages that were awarded.

Restating the Vacated

The appellate court explained that the lower court failed to understand Mrs. Berger's testimony in ruling on the cigarette companies' post-judgment motion.

While she did admit that it was peer pressure that caused her to start at around age 13, and that she did not believe the surgeon general's warning that "smoking may be hazardous," and didn't think anything of the science at the time, the appellate court explained that it didn't matter. The lower court had seized upon the testimony in finding that she did not become hooked because of the misinformation being put out there by the tobacco companies, as she admitted it was peers and that she didn't believe the medical warnings anyway.

However, the appellate panel explained that under the Engle progeny cases, Mrs. Berger's admission is actually a perfect example of what the tobacco companies were shooting for, hooking young smokers who their disinformation campaign would leave skeptical as to the hazards. Basically, where the lower court saw a teen who caved to peer pressure and didn't listen to doctors, the appellate court understood Mrs. Berger at age 13 to be the exact product the tobacco companies' disinformation campaign was designed to produce: teenage smokers.

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