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Florida First DCA affirms trial court’s denial of directed verdict for tobacco company in Engle-progeny tobacco case, finding sufficient evidence that tobacco companies’ advertising influenced the decedent to switch to low tar cigarette for supposed health benefits

On May 4, 2022, in Philip Morris USA Inc. v. Cuddihee, No. 1D20-2486, the Florida First DCA affirmed a trial court’s denial of the tobacco company defendant’s motion for a directed verdict in an Engle-progeny case in which the jury found for the plaintiff. The jury concluded that the company conspired to conceal or omit material information about the risks or addictive nature of cigarette smoking, which led to the death of the smoker. The defendant argued that the plaintiff failed to prove that the smoker detrimentally relied on any health-related statements made in furtherance of the conspiracy. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed after concluding that the plaintiff presented detrimental reliance evidence that sufficiently tied the decedent’s smoking, cancer, and death to misleading advertisements for innovative cigarette products developed by tobacco companies in response to public health concerns. The Eleventh Circuit focused on statements made by the co-conspirator tobacco company which allegedly influenced the decedent smoker’s decision to switch to a supposedly low-tar, less-addictive brand of cigarettes for health reasons, noting, inter alia, that the decedent’s daughter testified that he explained his decision to change to a low-tar brand using words “almost match[ing] verbatim” the language of the advertisements.