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R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Prentice

Court of Appeal of Florida, First District

October 24, 2019, Decided

No. 1D17-2104

Opinion

 [*964]  Rowe, J.1

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (RJR) appeals from a final judgment entered in favor of Linda Prentice, as personal representative of the Estate of John C. Price (the Estate), on her wrongful death claim. RJR raises several grounds for reversal and the Estate raises several issues on cross-appeal. We write only to address RJR's argument that the trial court erred by denying RJR's request for a special jury instruction on conspiracy to commit fraudulent concealment. [**2]  The trial court's refusal to give the special jury instruction on conspiracy to commit fraudulent concealment was an abuse of discretion because the proposed instruction was a correct statement of the law, was supported by the facts, was necessary for resolving the issues, and the failure to give the instruction was prejudicial.

Facts

Price filed an individual Engle2 lawsuit before his death, alleging that his Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease was caused by his addiction to smoking cigarettes manufactured and marketed by RJR. After Price died, the Estate maintained the suit as a wrongful death action. The Estate alleged causes of action for strict liability, negligence, fraudulent concealment, and conspiracy to commit fraudulent concealment.

Price began smoking when he was 12 years old. By the time he was 16, Price was smoking a pack a day. Price smoked two to three packs of cigarettes a day for most of his adult life. He did not quit smoking until he was 58, when he was diagnosed with COPD. He died 16 years later, at the age of 74.

 [*965]  As with other Engle-progeny cases, the Estate presented evidence that major tobacco companies in the United States, including RJR, made fraudulent statements [**3]  about the hazards of smoking as early as December 4, 1953. Over a fifty-year period, the tobacco companies concealed information about the addictive nature of nicotine and the harmful effects of smoking while engaging in marketing efforts to encourage people to smoke.

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290 So. 3d 963 *; 2019 Fla. App. LEXIS 16147 **; 44 Fla. L. Weekly D 2603; 2019 WL 5432089

R.J. REYNOLDS TOBACCO COMPANY, Appellant/Cross-Appellee, v. LINDA PRENTICE, as Personal Representative of the Estate of John C. Price, Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

Subsequent History: Rehearing denied by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Prentice, 2020 Fla. App. LEXIS 2015 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1st Dist., Jan. 29, 2020)

Dismissed by, Motion denied by, As moot Prentice v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 2020 Fla. LEXIS 677 (Fla., Apr. 15, 2020)

Prior History:  [**1] On appeal from the Circuit Court for Duval County. Tyrie W. Boyer, Judge.

CORE TERMS

conspiracy, smoking, concealed, detriment, addiction, legal cause, new trial, tobacco company, fraudulent concealment, cigarettes, misleading, damages, material information, punitive damages, fault, comparative fault, trial court, instructions, conspired, counts, inextricably intertwined, requested instruction, compensatory damages, conspiracy claim, strict liability, appellate court, advertising, pervasive, omission, reversal

Civil Procedure, Appeals, Standards of Review, Abuse of Discretion, Jury Trials, Jury Instructions, Requests for Instructions, Evidence, Burdens of Proof, Allocation, Torts, Fraud & Misrepresentation, Nondisclosure, Elements, Types of Evidence, Circumstantial Evidence, Inferences & Presumptions, Inferences, Products Liability, Theories of Liability, Misrepresentation, Reversible Errors, Judicial Officers, Judges, Discretionary Powers, Governments, Courts, Authority to Adjudicate, Remands, Verdicts, General Verdicts, Reviewability of Lower Court Decisions, Preservation for Review