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From Products Liability Law Daily, January 23, 2015

Philip Morris must pay $17.2 million to Florida smoker in Engle case

By Susan Lasser, J.D.

A Florida jury has returned a $17.2 million verdict in an Engle-progeny case against Philip Morris USA, Inc. Donna Brown, a Florida resident who began smoking as a minor, claimed that her addiction to smoking the tobacco company’s cigarettes caused her peripheral vascular disease, which resulted in the loss of her legs, according to a press release issued by Motley Rice LLC, one of the law firms representing Ms. Brown (Brown v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., January 21, 2015).

Background. Ms. Brown began smoking Marlboro cigarettes, manufactured by Philip Morris, at around 16-years-old and subsequently became addicted to nicotine. The press release stated that due to her addiction, she “experienced life-altering health issues.” In 1992, she was diagnosed with peripheral vascular disease (PVD)—a disease that typically causes a narrowing of the large arteries and blood restriction, commonly in the lower extremities. In addition, she has undergone over two dozen surgeries, including surgeries to remove both of her legs in 2003, and she has suffered multiple strokes.

Ms. Brown’s case was one of thousands filed against tobacco companies following the 2006 landmark ruling by the Florida Supreme Court in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 (Fla. 2006). The Engle decision allowed certain jury findings from the class action against the tobacco companies to have res judicata effect in subsequent lawsuits, like Ms. Brown’s, seeking damages from the tobacco companies.

Her amended complaint against multiple tobacco companies, including Philip Morris, alleged claims for strict liability, civil conspiracy to fraudulently conceal, fraudulent concealment, negligence/gross negligence, and breaches of express and implied warranties against the cigarette makers.

Jury verdict. The jury found first that Brown was addicted to cigarettes containing nicotine and that her addiction to nicotine-containing cigarettes was a legal cause of her peripheral vascular disease. More specifically, the jury answered “yes” when asked if Brown’s smoking cigarettes manufactured by Philip Morris was a legal cause of her vascular disease. After finding Philip Morris’s cigarettes were a specific cause of Brown’s disease, the jury turned to the cigarette maker’s percentage of liability and determined that Philip Morris was 55 percent liable for Brown’s illness, while Brown’s fault was determined to be 45 percent.

In addition, the jury found for Brown on the question of whether Philip Morris was liable on her claim that the cigarette maker concealed or omitted material information about the health effects and/or the additive nature of smoking cigarettes. Further, the jury determined that the statements that concealed or omitted material information about the health effects and the addictive nature of cigarettes upon which Brown relied were made by Philip Morris both before and after May 5, 1982.

The jury next determined that the cigarette maker was liable to Brown on her claim that it engaged in a conspiracy to conceal or omit material information from statements regarding the health effects and/or the addictive nature of smoking cigarettes. The time frame that the statements were made by Philip Morris in furtherance of the conspiracy to commit fraudulent concealment upon which Brown was the same: before and after May 5, 1982.

The jury concluded that Brown should receive a total of $17,287,448 in damages. Compensatory damages, in the amount of $8,287,448 was broken down as follows: $439,728 in past medical expenses; $5 million in past bodily injury and resulting pain and suffering, disability, mental anguish, inconvenience, ability to enjoy the pleasures of life, and disfigurement; $2.5 million in future bodily injury and resulting pain and suffering, disability, mental anguish, inconvenience, ability to enjoy the pleasures of life, and disfigurement; and $347,720 in past loss of ability to earn money. The jury did not award any damages for future loss of ability to earn money. Finally, the jury found that $9 million in punitive damages were warranted in the case.

The case is No. 3:09-cv-10687.

Attorneys: Charlie Easa Farah , Jr. (Farah & Farah, PA), Donald A. Migliori (Motley Rice, LLC), Elizabeth J. Cabraser (Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, LLP) and Janna B. McNicholas (The Wilner Firm, PA) for Donna Brown. Andrew S Brenner (Boies, Schiller & Flexner, LLP), Brian Alan Jackson (Shook, Hardy & Bacon, LLP) and David M. Monde (Jones Day) for Philip Morris USA, Inc.

Companies: Philip Morris USA, Inc.

MainStory: TopStory DamagesNews TobaccoProductsNews FloridaNews

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