Man unsure of the safety of his medicine

Breaking news and expert analysis on legal and compliance issues

[Back To Home][Back To Archives]

From Products Liability Law Daily, September 19, 2014

$20.76 million in punitive damages awarded against Philip Morris

By John W. Scanlan, J.D.

A smoker who developed Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) was awarded $20.76 million in punitive damages against Philip Morris by a federal jury in Florida. The jury also awarded her $6.25 million in compensatory damages, but found the smoker to be 40 percent liable for the development of her COPD (Berger v. Philip Morris USA Inc., September 16, 2014, Carr, J.).

Background. Judith Berger, a Florida resident, developed Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Asserting that she was addicted to cigarettes due to lies and omissions by cigarette companies, she filed claims for strict liability, civil conspiracy to fraudulently conceal, fraudulent concealment, negligence and gross negligence, and breach of express and implied warranties against several tobacco companies, including Philip Morris USA, Inc. Philip Morris moved for judgment as a matter of law on all her claims, and a second motion on the fraudulent concealment and conspiracy claims.

Damages. A jury awarded her $20.76 million in punitive damages, as well as $6.25 million in compensatory damages. The jury found that (1) the smoker’s COPD manifested itself before November 21, 1996; (2) she was addicted to nicotine-containing cigarettes; and (3) this addiction was a legal cause of her COPD. The jury assigned 60 percent of the legal cause of the smoker’s COPD to Philip Morris and the remaining 40 percent to the smoker.

Tobacco maker’s objections. Philip Morris had argued in its motion for summary judgment on all her claims that even if the jury could use the Phase I findings from the Engle litigation to prove compensatory damages, which it had argued against, those findings could not be used to prove punitive damages. The tobacco company also argued that independent evidence could not be used by the smoker to prove the appropriateness of punitive damages, and even if it could be, she still had not proved them to be appropriate. However, the judge denied Philip Morris’ motions.

The case number is 3:09-cv-14157.

Attorneys: Charlie Easa Farah, Jr. (Farah & Farah, PA) for Judith Berger. Bonnie C. Daboll (Shook, Hardy & Bacon, LLP), and Dana G. Bradford II (Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP) for Philip Morris U.S.A., Inc., and Liggett Group, LLC.

Companies: Philip Morris U.S.A., Inc.; Liggett Group, LLC

MainStory: TopStory DamagesNews WarningsNews TobaccoProductsNews FloridaNews

Products Liability Law Daily

Introducing Wolters Kluwer Products Liability Law Daily — a daily reporting service created by attorneys, for attorneys — providing same-day coverage of breaking news, court decisions, legislation, and regulatory activity.


A complete daily report of the news that affects your world

  • View full summaries of federal and state court decisions.
  • Access full text of legislative and regulatory developments.
  • Customize your daily email by topic and/or jurisdiction.
  • Search archives for stories of interest.

Not just news — the right news

  • Get expert analysis written by subject matter specialists—created by attorneys for attorneys.
  • Track law firms and organizations in the headlines with our new “Who’s in the News” feature.
  • Promote your firm with our new reprint policy.

24/7 access for a 24/7 world

  • Forward information with special copyright permissions, encouraging collaboration between counsel and colleagues.
  • Save time with mobile apps for your BlackBerry, iPhone, iPad, Android, or Kindle.
  • Access all links from any mobile device without being prompted for user name and password.