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From Products Liability Law Daily, April 28, 2016

Smoker’s widow, children awarded $12.5 M in punitive damages

By Pamela C. Maloney, J.D.

A Florida jury hit two major tobacco companies with a $12,500,000 punitive damages award just days after awarding $21,000,000 to the wife and children of a smoker who died from lung cancer allegedly caused by his addiction to cigarettes containing nicotine (Enochs v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., April 27, 2016).

In this Engle-progeny wrongful death action filed on behalf of his widow and children, the smoker’s estate sought compensatory and punitive damages against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris USA, Inc., based on allegations that cigarettes manufactured and sold by one or more tobacco companies were defective and that as a direct result of smoking cigarettes, the decedent developed long cancer which led to his death. The complaint also alleged that the tobacco companies concealed or omitted material information or failed to disclose material facts, or both, concerning the health effects or addictive nature of smoking cigarettes. Although the estate admitted that the decedent bore part of the responsibility for his smoking-related injuries, it stated that his actions were only a partial proximate cause and only in combination with the acts and omissions of the tobacco companies. In addition, this admission was given for purposes of comparative fault as it related to the estate’s negligence and strict liability claims.

Breakdown of damage awards. On April 26, the jury determined that the decedent’s addiction to cigarettes containing nicotine and his smoking of cigarettes manufactured by these two tobacco companies were the legal cause of his death. The jury also determined that the decedent reasonably relied to his detriment on statements of material fact made by each of the tobacco companies that concealed or omitted material information about the health effects or additive nature of smoking cigarettes and that such reliance was the cause of the decedent’s death from lung cancer.

Based on those findings, the jury assigned 66 percentage of the fault for the decedent’s injury and death to R.J. Reynolds, 12 percent to Philip Morris, and the remaining 22 percent to the decedent. It then awarded $7,000,000 in compensatory damages to the decedent’s widow and another $7,000,000 apiece to each of his two children. The $12,500,000 punitive damages award was divided equally between R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris.

The cases are No.s: 07-CA-023930 AI (punitive damages) and 2007-CA-024173 AN (compensatory damages).

Attorneys: Alex Alvarez (Alvarez Law Firm) and Gary Paige (Gordon & Doner) for Linda Purdo. Jeffrey Furr (King & Spalding, LLC) for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Bruce Tepikian (Shook, Hardy & Bacon LLP) for Philip Morris USA, Inc.

Companies: R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.; Philip Morris USA, Inc.

MainStory: TopStory DamagesNews TobaccoProductsNews FloridaNews

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