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Florida Court Upholds $33M Verdict Against Lorillard Tobacco

Sep 5, 2013

A Florida appeal court has dismissed a motion from tobacco giant Lorillard Tobacco Co. for a new trial involving a lawsuit in which a woman claimed her husband died from lung cancer caused by smoking cigarettes, including the company’s own product.

Lorillard was ordered to pay $33 million in that decision and on Sept. 4, Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal upheld that decision and denied the tobacco company’s request for a new trial, according to court documents.

The tobacco company wanted a new trial because it said a juror should have been replaced during original proceedings and that its penalty should have been lower because $33 million was excessive. The court denied all requests from Lorillard. The widow who brought the case against Lorillard is represented in part by Jordan Chaikin of the law firm of Parker Waichman LLP.

In its ruling this week, the court said: “Lorillard now claims that it is entitled to a new trial on compensatory damages rather than the remittitur that it sought and received post-trial. Because we find Lorillard’s multiple arguments on appeal without merit; the remitted compensatory damages award in the amount of $10 million and the punitive damages award in the amount of $25 million are neither excessive nor unconstitutional; and the compensatory and punitive damages awards are supported by the manifest weight of the evidence.”

The original case was brought by widow Dorothy Alexander, who claimed that her husband, Coleman, smoked cigarettes, including Lorillard’s Kent, for more than 40 years. In 1995, Coleman Alexander died as a result of lung cancer that his widowed wife said was caused by smoking cigarettes. The lawsuit against Lorillard claimed that the company failed to warn of the health effects of smoking its cigarettes and that the Kent cigarettes he smoked were “defective and dangerous,” according to court documents.

Alexander’s case is one to emerge from the Engle class-action lawsuit against major tobacco producers that had them paying $145 billion in damages to thousands of victims of cigarettes because the companies failed to warn about the health effects of smoking their products. Eventually, that decision was overturned and the tobacco companies were temporarily off the hook for the amount. The caveat in dismissing that massive settlement was that individual claimants could take their cases against the tobacco companies, including Lorillard.

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