A jury has determined Lorillard Tobacco Company (NYSE: LO) must pay a deceased smoker’s widow $20 million and possibly millions more in punitive damages at an ongoing civil trial in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court.

During tense moments before the reading of the verdict, attorneys clashed over the defense’s motion for a mistrial. Lorillard’s attorneys argued that due to the unavailability of the judge and the jury having to wait for his return after reaching a verdict, that jurors were allowed to continue deliberations and thus could not deliver their “original untainted verdict.”

While the jury deliberated, Judge Peter Lopez had left the courthouse for a colleague’s memorial service. According to a court transcript read back during the mistrial argument, after the jury informed the bailiff they had a verdict he said the judge had stepped away but would return shortly. Dorothy Alexander’s attorney argued against the motion for a mistrial, saying there was no evidence this delay impacted the jurors and the judge returned to the courthouse moments later. Judge Lopez denied the motion from the bench.

Had the motion been granted, this trial would have met the same fate as a growing number of other Engle cigarettes cases which recently ended in mistrials. Four separate online cigarettes cases ended in mistrials last month for unrelated reasons. Each Engle cigarettes store trial takes roughly two to three weeks to complete, and Florida courts are struggling with how to process the thousands of these complex cases slowly working their way through the system.

The original Engle class action was a landmark case awarding billions to smoking cigarettes victims and their families, but the Florida Supreme Court later ruled each case against the tobacco companies must be tried individually, with only a few dozen actually going to trial each year so far. A substantial number of Engle verdicts have been appealed, largely by the tobacco companies, and a recent appellate court’s reversal of an Engle plaintiff’s $2 million verdict suggests this trend will continue.

The jury returns to Judge Lopez’s courtroom next week to hear arguments in the trial’s punitive damages phase, which could force Lorillard to pay additional millions of dollars to Dorothy Alexander. These proceedings will be webcast live by Courtroom View Network, which has covered nearly all recent Engle tobacco trials to date.

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