Soffer v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.Annotate this Case
Maurice Soffer died from lung cancer caused by smoking. Soffer’s widow, Lucille Soffer, brought a wrongful death action against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company pursuant to Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., alleging four causes of action, all of which had been pled in the Engle class litigation. Prior to trial, Soffer moved to amend her complaint to add a demand for punitive damages. The trial court granted the motion to amend. A judgment was entered for Soffer in the amount of $2 million. Soffer appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in instructing the jury that it was prohibited from awarding punitive damages on the counts for negligence and strict liability based on the procedural posture of the original Engle class action. The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that individual members of the Engle class action are bound by the procedural prosture of the Engle class representatives when they pursue their individual lawsuits and, thus, cannot seek punitive damages on negligence or strict liability counts. The Supreme Court quashed the Court of Appeal’s decision, holding that the individual members of the Engle class action are not prevented from seeking punitive damages on all claims properly raised in their subsequent individual actions.