Another Engle Statute Of Limitations Issue Arises In Florida Smoking Case

In November of 2012, we blogged about the Castleman case, the most recent Engle decision in Florida, where the court found itself in the strange position of hearing the plaintiff argue for an earlier manifestation date in his smoking/lung injury case.  Usually, the plaintiff is arguing for a later date to prove that he hasn’t blown the statute of limitations.  But, as we discussed in that post, the earlier manifestation date would have allowed the plaintiff to gain class member status, affording him the benefits of certain preclusive findings in his own case.

Well, Engle issues also arose in the October 2012 decision of Philip Morris USA, Inc. v. Barbanell, 100 So. 3d 152 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2012) [PDF].  This case involved, predictably, the death of the plaintiff’s decedent as a result of smoking Philip Morris-manufactured cigarettes.

The other issue before the court in Barnabell, as in Castleman, was the statute of limitations.  Philip Morris argued that the court erred by not granting the company’s motion for summary judgment on the issue.  This appeals court affirmed the trial court’s decision and declined to grant Philip Morris judgment as a matter of law.

Specifically, the issue was whether the statute of limitations began to run when the decedent started to experience lung-related conditions including shortness of breath, “hard breathing,” and other breathing-related difficulties, or whether the clock didn’t start until the decedent was specifically informed by her doctor that she suffered from smoking-related emphysema and, later, lung cancer.

The court held that the latter diagnoses should be the measure by which the statute of limitations was calculated:

In this case, the trial court directed a verdict on PM’s affirmative defense that the statute of limitations barred Barbanell’s claim of wrongful death from lung cancer, and the jury made the finding that Shirley Barbanell did not know or have reason to know that she had COPD prior to May 5, 1990. Therefore, the unspecified injury that the jury determined that Mrs. Barbanell was aware of prior to May 5, 1990, was not COPD nor was it the lung cancer. We therefore affirm the trial court in all respects as to the direct appeal and cross-appeal. 

100 So. 3d 152 at 160.  The decision drew a strong dissent on whether or not the issue should have been decided by the court at all or allowed to go to the jury.  Nevertheless, the statute of limitations continues to be a heavily litigated issue in these smoking cases.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


9 - = eight

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>