The largest individual award to a Florida smoker will be reduced, Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld (Broward County Circuit Court) ruled Friday. [Here's the story on Law.com]
Judge Streitfeld called the $300 million jury verdict, rendered months ago, "excessive" and "shocking," based on anger (which the judge attributed to poor lawyering tactics on the part of the defense) and not merely on the desire to compensate and punish. The verdict, discussed in POL previously, awarded $56.5 million in compensatory damages and $244 million in punitive damages to Cindy Naugle, an emphysema patient who quit smoking in 1993. Florida law caps punitive damages at three times compensatory damages, absent extraordinary circumstances -- and in the Naug case the compensatories (including millions for pain and suffering) as well as the punitives were challenged as excessive. Under Florida law, judges must reduce jury awards found to be excessive.
The Naug case is currently #1 on the hit parade 8,000 individual suits against cigarette manufacturers that were filed after the Florida Supreme Court decertified struck down a $145 billion punitive class action award on the grounds that smokers must sue individually. That decision held that the class action jury's finding that smoking is dangerous and addictive and causes disease could not be questioned in the individual suits.
Judge Streitfeld did not indicate when he would determine the amount of the reduction.