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From Products Liability Law Daily, May 5, 2015

Philip Morris must pay nearly $6.4 million to deceased smoker’s wife and daughter

By Susan Lasser, J.D.

A Florida jury has ordered Philip Morris U.S.A., Inc. (Philip Morris) to pay over $6.3 million in compensatory damages to the wife, daughter, and estate of a deceased smoker. Jury members heard the decedent’s wife, as the personal representative of her husband’s estate, in the Engle-progeny action make the case against the cigarette manufacturer on strict liability, negligence, fraud, and conspiracy claims in the wrongful death action (Brown v. Philip Morris U.S.A., Inc., May 1, 2015).

Background and complaint. Mary L. Brown is the personal representative of the estate of Rayfield Brown (Brown) who died on July 29, 1995, of lung cancer that was diagnosed in 1993. The decedent began smoking as a teenager and smoked until 1987. The fourth amended complaint for wrongful death damages in an action by a number of Engle-progeny plaintiffs, including claims on behalf of the Browns, stated that Brown “was addicted to the Philip Morris and Camel cigarettes that he smoked,” and alleged that his lung cancer was caused by his addiction to cigarettes containing nicotine. Additionally, Mary Brown admitted in the complaint that Brown “may bear some measure of fault … for causing his smoking-related injuries,” but she maintained that such fault was less than 100 percent of the applicable fault at issue. Further, Ms. Brown conceded that her husband’s “acts or omissions relating to the frequency and duration of his efforts to quit smoking may have been a partial proximate cause, in combination with the acts and omissions of [the defendant cigarette manufacturers], of his injuries.” Thus, she sought “potential apportionment of fault and damages on all counts” except for those claims alleging intentional torts. The action was brought on behalf of Brown’s survivors—his wife, Mary, and his daughter, Jennifer L. Brown.

The complaint specifically alleged that the defendant cigarette makers each intentionally and willfully engaged in fraudulent conduct and “conspired to engage in such conduct, or engaged in such conduct, with such gross negligence as to indicate a willful and wanton disregard for the rights of [the] decedent.” It was also alleged that each defendant cigarette manufacturer misrepresented and concealed facts about the health effects of smoking cigarettes, and that Brown relied to his detriment on those misrepresentations and “further relied upon information supplied to him, and the general public, about the health effects of smoking cigarettes.” If the manufacturers had not concealed the facts concerning the addictive nature of nicotine and the health effects of smoking cigarettes, the complaint maintained, then Brown may not have started smoking and may have stopped smoking earlier than he did. The Browns alleged that as a “direct and proximate result of this gross misconduct,” Brown died and his estate was entitled to recover all damages specified under Florida’s Wrongful Death Act, as well as punitive damages.

The fourth amended complaint dismissed defendants R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Liggett Group LLC, Vector Group LLC, and Lorillard Tobacco Company, so the case proceeded to trial against only Philip Morris.

Jury verdict. The jury determined that Mary and Jennifer Brown were entitled to compensatory damages. The jury awarded Mary Brown $4 million for her mental pain and suffering as a result of her husband’s injury and death, as well as for the loss of her husband’s protection and companionship. She also received $123,240 for the loss of her husband’s past support and services.

Additionally, the jury awarded Brown’s daughter, Jennifer, $2 million in damages for the mental pain and suffering she sustained as a result of her father’s injury and death, as well as for the loss of his companionship, instruction, and guidance. The jury also said that Philip Morris must pay damages to Brown’s estate in the amount of $252,037.41: $137,750 for the value of past and future lost wages and earnings of Rayfield Brown from the date of his injury until the date of his death; and $114,287.41 for the amount of any medical bills or funeral expenses resulting from Brown’s injury and death. The total damages were $6,375,277.41.

Finally, the jury determined that punitive damages were not warranted against Philip Morris.

The case is No. 2008-CA-015000.

Attorneys: Robert Shields (Doffermyre Shields Canfield & Knowles, LLC) for Mary Brown. Kenneth Reilly (Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP) for Philip Morris U.S.A., Inc.

Companies: Philip Morris U.S.A., Inc.

MainStory: TopStory JuryVerdictsNewsStory TobaccoProductsNews DamagesNews FloridaNews

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