The Engle tobacco case in Florida is a landmark decision involving tobacco litigation. Tobacco litigation is any lawsuit that is filed by persons who smoked cigarettes or other products that contain tobacco and were harmed by their consumption of such products that were placed into the stream of commerce.
Examples of common harms suffered by tobacco users include the development of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (“COPD”). Although there have been scientific studies that linked the consumption of tobacco to the development of lung cancer and other related medical problems, tobacco companies continued to advertise and sell cigarettes to the general public. In fact, the surgeon general’s warning was not placed on cigarette products until after Congress intervention in 1965.
As more consumers continued to develop health issues linked with the consumption of tobacco products, more and more of those consumers began to file civil lawsuits against the tobacco companies for the injuries they suffered.
In the beginning, the legal theories on which plaintiffs (i.e. the parties that were harmed) included:
- Negligence: Specifically plaintiffs would claim that the tobacco companies failed to act with reasonable care in producing and marketing cigarettes;
- Product Liability: Plaintiffs would claim that under the theory of product liability the tobacco companies were placing cigarettes into the stream of commerce when they knew the product would harm consumers and were unreasonably dangerous; and/or
- Fraud: Many plaintiffs brought claims of fraud against tobacco companies who initially denied the harmful effects of the products.
In any case, there have been thousands of tobacco litigation cases that have been initiated by consumers of tobacco products who developed health issues as the result of their consumption of tobacco products. As such, when many consumers have been harmed by the same product, such as the consumers being harmed by the consumption of tobacco, they sometimes come together and form a class of plaintiffs and sue the alleged wrongdoer as a class. This is how a tobacco class action lawsuit occurs.
What Is the Engle Case?
As mentioned above, when numerous persons are harmed by the same product or person, then they can form a class and sue the alleged wrongdoer together as a class. The Engle case was such a case. In the state of Florida in 1994, a large group of persons initiated a class action lawsuit against tobacco companies.
Specifically, the case was Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., and was initiated by persons who had become addicted to cigarettes and developed medical conditions ranging from lung cancer to COPD and other heart related diseases. The class claimed that they were victims of intentional infliction of emotional distress and fraud as a result of cigarette companies concealing the dangers of smoking to the public.
The Florida court certified a nationwide class of persons in 1994, but then reduced the class to only Florida smokers, as a nationwide class of persons was deemed too vast and unmanageable.
Then, the represented class of Florida citizens who suffered from smoking-related illnesses were able to obtain a jury verdict that awarded the class a lump sum of $145 billion in punitive damages in 2000. The tobacco companies then appealed the decision and damages award, and the decision was overturned by an appellate court in 2004. Then the case was appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.
Tobacco Industry’s Win and Class Decertification
In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court agreed with the appellate court’s decision regarding overturning the lower court’s decision and decided to reverse the $145 billion award granted to the class. The court also then decertified the class. This means that the class action lawsuit could not legally be re-filed, and instead the individual members of the original class action lawsuit could file individual lawsuits against the tobacco companies to recover for the specific harm they suffered.
These individual lawsuits were referred to as an Engle Progeny tobacco case. In an Engle Progeny Tobacco case, the harmed plaintiffs, or their surviving loved ones, were able to initiate private civil lawsuits against the tobacco company on a case by case basis. The significance of this Supreme Court decision is that thousands of plaintiffs began to file individual lawsuits.
Allowing Individual Lawsuits
As mentioned above, in 2006 the Florida Supreme Court decertified the Engle class action lawsuit and allowed individual members of the class to seek private civil lawsuits against the tobacco companies. This makes sense, as when an individual has been harmed by another party, they are legally entitled to seek a private civil lawsuit against the party that harmed them in order to recover for the damages they suffered.
It is important to note that in decertifying the class action lawsuit, the Florida Supreme Court allowed issues that were already decided in the class action lawsuit, such as findings that tobacco products were defective, dangerous, addictive, and the cause of certain health issues and diseases to hold true. Further, the findings that tobacco companies were negligent and committed fraud and conspiracy were also carried over.
All in all, this made it easier for individual Engle Progeny tobacco cases to proceed and succeed in local courts. Further, it made it easier for other individuals harmed by tobacco products to be successful in suing a tobacco company. This is because for members of the former class action lawsuit, they did not have to provide as much evidence as required in a normal civil lawsuit, as the evidence had already been proven. All they had to do was prove they were a former member of the class, and had a smoking related illness that was diagnosed or discovered prior to November 21, 1996.
However, as of March 21, 2022 the Engle Progeny tobacco cases were affected by another Florida Supreme Court decision. In their most recent decision, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that all of the plaintiffs in the Engle Progeny tobacco cases must now demonstrate and show that they relied on misleading information from the cigarette manufacturers to prevail on their claims. In essence, the Engle Progeny tobacco cases now became much harder to be successful on.
Specifically, Justice Carlos Muniz stated: “[what] matters for purposes of reliance is that the plaintiff be able to prove a causal connection running from an Engle defendant’s statement or statements, to the plaintiff’s beliefs about the health effects or addictiveness of smoking cigarettes, to the plaintiff’s injury.” Further, the Court also ruled that “[t]he statements relied upon must have been capable of causing the plaintiff to form a false belief about the health effects or addictiveness of smoking cigarettes.”
In essence, the settled law on Engle Progeny cases based on inferred reliance of a smoker’s history coupled with the rulings found in the class action lawsuit of tobacco companies advertising, are no longer enough for a plaintiff to succeed in their case.
Consulting an Attorney
As can be seen, the laws surrounding tobacco lawsuits have evolved over the years, including the legal theories upon which plaintiffs base their lawsuits on. As such, if you are a smoker or a surviving loved one of a smoker that was harmed by tobacco, especially if you believe you were a member of the original Engle class action lawsuit, it is in your best interests to contact an experienced Florida class action attorney.
An experienced Florida class action attorney can help determine whether you have a case against the tobacco companies, and can also help you recover monetary damages from the tobacco industry for the injuries you suffered. An attorney can also help you initiate a private civil lawsuit against the tobacco companies, and represent you in court, as needed.