Tobacco Companies Are Dealt a Series of Major Litigation Losses in Florida During March And April – and There’s no End in Sight

Contact: Edward L. Sweda or Mark Gottlieb
(617) 373-2026 or (617) 373-8462

Florida juries and a Court of Appeal have help make March and April of 2010 two months during which tobacco companies are being held accountable for their massive, reprehensible misconduct that has wreaked havoc on the lives of Florida residents.

In the most recent case, a jury in Gainesville on April 21 rendered a $10 million compensatory damages award and an $80 million punitive damages award against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in the Townsend case.   The jury assessed 51% responsibility to RJR and 49% responsibility to Mr. Townsend. The apportionment of liability is possible through the legal doctrine of comparative fault which permits a defendant to be held liable for the portion of the harm it is responsible for in situations where the plaintiff bears some of the responsibility as well. Thus, if the verdict withstands appeal, the plaintiff will receive $80.5 million.

Other blows to Big Tobacco include the following:

  • March 10.  A jury awarded $5 million compensatory damages award to the plaintiff in the Douglas case.  The jury assessed 50% responsibility to the deceased smoker, 27% responsibility to Liggett Group, 18% responsibility to Philip Morris, and 5% responsibility to R.J. Reynolds.  Thus, if the verdict withstands appeals, the plaintiff will receive $2.5 million.
  • March 12.  A jury in Gainesville awarded $5 million in compensatory damages and $12.5 million in punitive damages against R.J. Reynolds in the Hall case.   The trial judge later reduced the total award to $15.75 million.
  • March 17.  The Third District Court of Appeal upheld the $24.8 million award to John Lukacs, a longtime smoker who died of cancer shortly after his 2002 trial.  The defendants in that case are Philip Morris USA, Brown & Williamson and Liggett Group.
  • March 24.  A jury in Fort Lauderdale awarded $10 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in punitive damages against Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds in the Cohen case.  The jury assessed one-third responsibility to Mr. Cohen, Philip Morris and RJR; thus, the total award to the plaintiff, if the verdict withstands appeals, will be $26.6 million.
  • April 13 and 14.  A jury awarded $3.5 million in compensatory damages and $18 million ($17 million against R.J. Reynolds and $1 million against Liggett Group) in punitive damages to the family of a longtime smoker in the Clay case.  The jury assessed the smoker as 30% responsible, R.J. Reynolds 60% responsible and Liggett Group 10% responsible.  Thus, if the verdict withstands appeal, the plaintiff will receive $20.45 million.

“This ever-growing list of plaintiff victories in Florida constitutes a trend with a capital ‘T,’” said Edward L. Sweda, Jr., Senior Attorney for the Tobacco Products Liability Project (TPLP), a project of the Public Health Advocacy Institute, which is based at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston.  “The tobacco companies must soon re-examine their policy of not settling these ‘Engle progeny’ cases, since many more trials are scheduled in the upcoming weeks and months,” Sweda concluded.

Mark Gottlieb, Director of TPLP noted that, “while there are some unique features of these Florida cases, there is no reason why this sort of success against the cigarette companies cannot be reproduced in many states.  Rational minds hear the evidence and hold wrongdoers accountable regardless of state boundaries.”

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About Mark Gottlieb

Mark Gottlieb joined the staff of the Public Health Advocacy Institute in 1993 after graduating from Northeastern University School of Law. His efforts have focused on researching tobacco litigation as a public health strategy as director of the Tobacco Products Liability Project, reducing the harm caused by secondhand tobacco smoke through a variety of legal and policy approaches, fostering scholarship using tobacco industry documents, and, more recently, examining legal and policy approaches to address obesity. He is the Executive Director of the Institute and lives in Cambridge, MA with his wife and three children.