Florida Tobacco Lawsuit Results in $300 Million Jury Award to Ex-SmokerNov 23, 2009 | Parker Waichman LLP
A Florida tobacco lawsuit trial has ended with a jury awarding $300 million to a former smoker who now suffers from emphysema. The award is the largest in a Florida tobacco lawsuit to date, according to the Associated Press.
The lawsuit was one of roughly 8,000 pending in Florida that was spawned by Engle vs. Liggett. The 1994 class action lawsuit involved thousands of Florida smokers and their families who were seeking compensation from tobacco companies for the injuries they sustained from smoking. In 1999, a jury agreed that cigarette makers deceived smokers about the safety of their product, and awarded $145 billion in punitive damages to the plaintiffs. But a Florida appeals court reversed the decision in 2003.
In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court refused to reinstate the punitive damages and stripped the lawsuit of its class-action status. However, the court allowed individuals who could have won judgments under the original verdict to use findings from the yearlong jury trial – including that cigarettes are addictive and cause cancer – to bring new cases against the cigarette makers. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the tobacco companies’ appeal of the Florida court’s decision, setting the stage for a deluge of tobacco injury lawsuits in the state.
According to the Associated Press, the plaintiff in this latest Florida tobacco lawsuit was a 61-year-old woman who began smoking in 1968, at age 20. After several attempts to quit, she stopped smoking in 1993 with the aid of a nicotine patch. She requires 24-hour oxygen and must travel in a wheelchair because walking leaves her exhausted.
Last week, a Florida jury agreed that the woman's illness was the result of negligence on the part of Philip Morris USA, a unit of Altria Group Inc. The company was ordered to pay $56 million in compensatory and $244 million in punitive damages
Richard A. Daynard, professor of law at Northeastern University and chairman of the Tobacco Products Liability Project, told the Associated Press that the large verdict could encourage other Florida juries to reach similar decisions. "I think Philip Morris has finally met its match in Florida. This gives jurors permission to fully compensate plaintiffs for all the harm they suffered and to express their moral outrage at the industry's behavior, " Daynard said.