January 8, 2023
The Florida Supreme Court this week answered a certified question from Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeal on relative damage awards in a tobacco-related wrongful death case.
The case, Coates v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., saw a jury award the plaintiff $150,000 in compensatory damages and $16 million in punitive damages, which are meant to punish defendants and serve as a deterrent for others.
William Large and the FJRI earned a major win this week.
The Florida Justice Reform Institute (FJRI), joined by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Tort Reform Association, previously filed an amicus brief in the case.
In its amicus, FJRI argued that “the 1997 version of the statutory cap found in section 768.73(1), Florida Statutes (1997) (the version applicable to this case), makes an award of punitive damages above the 3:1 ratio presumptively invalid.”
After the high court agreed, FJRI President William Large issued a celebratory statement.
“As the Court noted in its opinion, ‘judicial discretion must be constrained by statutory criteria in determining whether an award is excessive.’ This is a huge win for textualism and the notion that the judiciary’s role is to say what the law is and not what it should be,” he said.