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Philip Morris Must Pay Florida Smoker’s Attorneys $3.2 Million

Jan. 20, 2022, 5:13 PM

A trial court appropriately used out-of-town billing rates to calculate Philip Morris USA Inc.'s obligation for its successful opponent’s legal fees in a Jacksonville, Fla., personal injury case, a divided Florida appeals court said in upholding a $3.2 million fee award.

Expert evidence supported the conclusion that tobacco litigation is unique and complex, and most litigators who try such cases in Jacksonville don’t live or practice there, Judge Joseph Lewis Jr. said Wednesday for the Florida District Court of Appeal, First District.

Elaine Jordan’s suit is among the Florida cases that stem from a decertified class action, Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc. Florida courts are still overseeing thousands of Engle-progeny cases.

Judge Bradford L. Thomas dissented. Engle-progeny cases are “easier to prove when compared to other types of complex civil actions” because factual findings from the original Engle case relieve plaintiffs of the burden of proving some elements of their claims, he said.

Jordan sued Philip Morris, alleging smoking-related injuries, and prevailed at trial, according to the appeals court. She received both compensatory and punitive damages, reportedly obtaining about $11 million. She sought attorneys’ fees from Philip Morris under Florida’s offer of judgment statute.

Philip Morris disputed the rate the plaintiffs proposed, saying Jacksonville-based attorneys charge less.

But the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion in agreeing to a higher, out-of-town rate, Lewis said.

Bishop & Mills PLLC represented Jordan. Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP and Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP represented Philip Morris.

The case is Philip Morris USA Inc. v. Jordan, 2022 BL 18360, Fla. Dist. Ct. App., 1st Dist., No. 1D20-360, 1/19/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Martina Barash in Washington at mbarash@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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