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Florida First DCA rules that defendant in Engle-progeny tobacco trial had the right to present evidence of prior financial settlements with states in defending against punitive damages claim

On July 21, 2021, in Blundell v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., No. 1D20-232, the Florida First DCA ruled that a trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the defendant in an Engle-progeny tobacco punitive damages trial to present as mitigation evidence the$61 billion paid to states under two previous tobacco-litigation settlement agreements. The plaintiff argued that this was unfairly prejudicial under Fla. Stat. § 90.403 and that only express punishments and punitive damage awards may be presented as mitigation evidence and considered by the fact finder as misconduct-related punishment in a punitive damages trial. The First DCA cited its previous decision in Johns-Manville Sales Corp. v. Janssens, 463 So. 2d 242, 248 (Fla. 1st DCA 1984) in which the Court provided a list of nine relevant factors in a punitive damages case, including “the total punishment the enterprise will probably receive from other sources.” Regarding the distinction between compensatory and punitive payments, the Court stated: “[w]e understand basic due process considerations to support Reynolds’s right to present such evidence. Irrespective of whether a large settlement or damage award paid by a defendant is considered compensatory or punitive in nature, such payments can punish a tortfeasor and deter future misconduct.”

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