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R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company v. Davis

Florida Court of Appeals, Third District

April 25, 2018

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Appellant,
v.
Patsy Elaine Davis, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Booker Terry Davis, deceased, Appellee.

         Not final until disposition of timely filed motion for rehearing.

          An Appeal from the Circuit Court for Miami-Dade County Lower Tribunal No. 10-45478, William Thomas, Judge.

          Jones Day, Donald B. Ayer (Washington, DC), and Charles R.A. Morse (New York, NY); Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, P.A., Benjamine Reid, and Jeffrey A. Cohen, for appellant.

          Freidin Brown and Philip Freidin; The Mills Firm, P.A., John S. Mills and Courtney Brewer (Tallahassee); The Alvarez Law Firm and Alex Alvarez; David J. Sales (Jupiter), for appellee.

          Before EMAS, FERNANDEZ, and LUCK, JJ.

          FERNANDEZ, J.

         R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company appeals the trial court's decision to grant a new trial in the underlying wrongful death tobacco case. We find the trial court abused its discretion in ordering a new trial. We thus reverse the trial court's order and remand the case for entry of judgment for R.J. Reynolds in accordance with the jury's verdict. In addition, we vacate the trial court's show-cause order.

         The plaintiff, Patsy Elaine Davis, is the personal representative of the estate of her deceased husband, Booker Terry Davis. Davis sued R.J. Reynolds for Booker's wrongful death. Davis contended that Booker was a member of the class certified in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., 945 So.2d 1246 (Fla. 2006), alleging that Booker contracted lung cancer in 1994, as a result of his addiction to cigarettes manufactured by R.J. Reynolds, and that he consequently died in 1997.

         At trial, Davis had to prove that Booker was a member of the Engle class; he was required to show that he was addicted to smoking and that this was a legal cause of his injuries. In order to prove this, Davis provided her own testimony, as well as the deposition testimony of an addiction expert. R.J. Reynolds countered this testimony by calling its own addiction expert, Dr. Debra Barnett, to testify that Booker was not addicted to cigarettes.

         Davis claims that at trial, during an examination of Dr. Barnett, R.J. Reynolds's counsel referred to the outcome of another tobacco case, Fanali v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., No. 50 2008 CA 000800 (Fla. 15th Cir. Ct. 2015), which prejudicially affected the jury's verdict. During cross-examination, Davis's counsel questioned Dr. Barnett's credibility regarding her opinion that Booker was not addicted to nicotine because, in Fanali, Dr. Barnett testified that a smoker who smoked five packs of cigarettes per day was not addicted. This exchange took place:

Q: And in all those cases [in which you previously testified], those are cases where you found that there was no addiction; correct?
A: Yes, that is true.
Q: Okay. And all of them-well, what's the least amount of smoking in ...

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