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Posts Tagged ‘TPLP’

Florida court of appeal affirms $28.3 million verdict against R.J. Reynolds; explicitly rejects RJR’s attempt to “essentially nullify” Florida Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in Engle

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010


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

In a resounding defeat for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the First District Court of Appeal of Florida affirmed a jury’s award of $5 million in compensatory damages (later reduced by the trial judge to $3.3. million because the jury found Benny Martin 34% responsible for his death from lung cancer in 1995) and $25 million in punitive damages.

As the court noted, the “crux of this appeal is the extent to which an Engle class member can rely upon the findings from the class action when she individually pursues one or more Engle defendants for damages.”   RJR attempted to “diminish the preclusive effect of the findings by claiming, based on the Phase I verdict form, that the findings ‘facially’ prove nothing specifically relevant to Mr. Martin’s claims.  In so doing, RJR urges an application of the supreme court’s decision that would essentially nullify it.  We decline to do so.”

Edward L. Sweda, Jr., Senior Attorney for the Tobacco Product’s Liability Project (TPLP), a project of the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI), based at Northeastern University School of Law, called today’s decision the “worst nightmare for the tobacco defendants because the powerful Phase I findings will be applicable to Engle progeny trials in state court.”  Furthermore, the award of $25 million in punitive damages is entirely justified by what the court accurately described as the ‘evidence of decades-long wanton conduct by RJR…’”

New Hampshire Court Grants Class Certification for Plaintiffs in a Light Cigarettes Class Action Lawsuit against Philip Morris

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE : November 23, 2010
Contact: Edward L. Sweda, Jr. 617-373-8462 or 857-753-9560

A New Hampshire state court on Monday granted a motion to certify a class action in a lawsuit brought under that state’s Consumer Protection Act (CPA) in the case of Lawrence et al. v. Philip Morris, USA, Inc.  The ruling makes New Hampshire the third state, after Missouri and Massachusetts, where such a class certification has been approved in a consumer-protection lawsuit against the tobacco industry’s light cigarettes scam.

Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Larry M. Smukler ruled that the plaintiffs had met all of the legal requirements for a class action under New Hampshire law.  Referring to the lawsuit which was filed on March 29, 2002, Judge Smukler ruled that “in this case, common issues of law and fact predominate over individual issues.”
The plaintiffs are represented by Attorney Chuck Douglas, who can be reached at 603-224-1988.

Edward L. Sweda, Jr., Senior Attorney for the Tobacco Products Liability Project, (TPLP) welcomed the court’s ruling.  “Just as courts in Missouri and Massachusetts have determined, a class action is an appropriate type of lawsuit to hold the tobacco companies accountable for their reprehensible misconduct in inflicting their light cigarette scam onto the public,” Sweda said.

In August 2006, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that the tobacco companies had violated federal anti-racketeering law.  She noted that the tobacco industry’s light cigarette scam was one of the examples of misconduct that violated the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

See the Certification Order here.

Yet another plaintiff’s verdict in Florida: Piendle v. RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. et al.

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

August 5, 2010

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

A Palm Beach, Florida jury today returned a verdict of $2.2. million against Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, on behalf of Liz Piendle, the widow of Charles Piendle, who died from lung cancer in 1996 at the age of 55. The jury assessed $4 million, but found Mr. Piendle to be 45% responsible while the two defendants were found to be 55% responsible (27.5% each) for his death; therefore, the $4 million figure was reduced to $2.2 million. The jury also found that Mr. Piendle was addicted to cigarettes containing nicotine, that his addiction was a legal cause of his lung cancer and death, that Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds placed “defective and unreasonably dangerous cigarettes” on the market and that “by clear and convincing evidence” punitive damages are warranted against both of the defendants.

The Piendle family is represented by Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley; Attorney Greg Barnhart can be reached at 561-686-6300.

Edward L. Sweda, Jr., Senior Attorney for the Tobacco Products Liability Project (TPLP), a project of the Public Health Advocacy Institute, was delighted with today’s verdict. “There have now been 19 plaintiff verdicts out of the 22 Engle Progeny cases that have gone to a full jury verdict. Today’s verdict is welcome news for the Piendle family as well as for all those who believe that corporate wrongdoers deserve to be held accountable for their reprehensible misconduct. We look forward to the jury’s assessment of punitive damages in this case, something designed both to punish those wrongdoers and to deter such misconduct in the future,” Sweda concluded.

Report on Altria Group, Inc.’s Annual Shareholders Meeting – Richmond, Virginia, May 20, 2010

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

By Edward L. Sweda, Jr., Senior Attorney- PHAI


On May 20, 2010, the Commonwealth of Virginia executed Darick Demorris Walker, who had been convicted of murdering Stanley Beale in 1996 and Clarence Elwood Threat in 1997.  Also on May 20, 2010, the Altria Group, Inc. Annual Shareholders Meeting took place in Richmond, Virginia.

During the meeting’s question and answer session, shareholder Anne Morrow Donley asked chairman and chief executive officer, Michael E. Szymanczyk the following question: “Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court made a quite controversial decision, noting that essentially corporations are like people.  Therefore, fair is fair.  There’s a death penalty when murder is committed, so it seems only fair that there should be a corporate death penalty for this company because it admits that it is making a product that kills people.  A corporate death penalty could require Altria to apologize for its weapons of mass destruction and could require Altria to cease and desist from the destruction of life.  So my question is, since the company itself has admitted in legal proceedings that it makes products which kill people, and courts in various states have upheld challenges from the company saying that Altria is legally responsible for the deaths of customers, therefore, why should not Philip Morris, or Altria itself, not be subject to the death penalty?”

His response was to fall back on the tired refrain that cigarettes are a “legal product” and that people, aware of smoking’s risks, still choose to do so.


Having noted that Philip Morris had lost jury verdicts in seven “Engle Progeny” cases during a 15-month span, Tobacco Products Liability Project Senior Attorney Edward L. Sweda, Jr. asked Mr. Szymanczyk when his company will change its policy of refusing to settle the “Engle Progeny” cases, which number approximately 9500.  His response was to declare that Altria is “bullish” about the long-term prospects of tobacco litigation in the United States.   He said this even though in recent years, when state legislatures considered bills to put an artificial cap on total awards against tobacco companies in product liability cases, company lobbyists have supported such bills by portraying the company as risking bankruptcy if the caps were not imposed.  Mr. Szymanczyk’s “bullish” comment became the headline in the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s account of the meeting.


During his business presentation just prior to the question and answer session, Mr. Szymanczyk cited the company’s “Mission,” which includes a pledge that it will “actively participate in resolving societal concerns that are relevant to our business.”  Shareholder Rev. Michael Crosby of the Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility, noted that, according to a report in late April in the Wall Street Journal in March 2010 Altria had attempted to remove four members of an FDA advisory panel because of alleged conflicts of interest.  The FDA rebuffed Altria’s attempt to remove those panelists.  Fr. Crosby said that such a power play by Altria contradicted that pledge.  Mr. Szymanczyk’s response was that the company is “participating in” the FDA’s regulatory process and that “part of participating involves representing shareholder interests.’


There were two shareholder resolutions considered at the 2010 Shareholders Meeting.  The first, which called on the company to “commission an independent study and issue a resulting report on the affect of our company’s marketing on the purchasing practices of poor people.  Shareholders ask that this report offer ways to alleviate the harm done to innocent children, such as food insecurity, by such adults who smoke.  Shareholders ask that this report include recommendations as to whether our Company should continue marketing its products in census tracts with over 50% poverty.”  Supporters of this resolution noted that families with at least one smoker spend 2% to 20% of their income on tobacco.  In many instances, such spending deprives children of necessities such as food.

Management opposed this resolution, claiming that Philip Morris USA’s “responsible marketing practices, cessation support and the regulatory authority of the United States Food and Drug Administration (‘FDA’) are sufficient to address the concerns raised by this proposal.”

This resolution received 4.3% of the total number of shares and, thus, is not eligible to be refilled for the 2011 Shareholders Meeting.

The second resolution called on the company to create human rights protocols for itself and its suppliers.  Noting that Philip Morris USA contracts with suppliers who employ migrant farm workers, the proponents cited the serious problems of Green Tobacco Sickness (GTS).  GTS occurs when the skin absorbs nicotine from touching tobacco plant; the illness threatens more than 33 million tobacco farm workers globally.  The shareholders supporting this resolution “request the Altria Board of Directors to commit itself to create procedures to implement the internationally agreed-upon core human rights conventions in the countries in which it operates and to find ways to ensure that its suppliers are enforcing these as well.”

Management opposed the resolution, claiming that there are already sufficient practices and programs in place in the United States that “address farm safety and working conditions.”  This resolution received 20.5% support and will therefore be eligible for submission next year.

TPLP’s Edward L. Sweda, Jr. (left), with Rev. Michael Crosby and Anne Morrow Donley of Virginia, on the morning of May 20, 2010, shortly before attending the 2010 Altria Group, Inc. Annual Shareholders Meeting at the Greater Richmond Convention Center

More Florida Verdicts against Cigarette Companies – Buonomo

Friday, May 21st, 2010

On May 20, 2010 after a three-week trial, a six-person Fort Lauderdale, Florida jury returned a verdict in favor of Connie Buonomo, the widow of Matthew Buonomo, who died from chronic obstructive lung disease in 2008 at the age of 80.Mr. Buonomo had started smoking as a teenager.

The defendant, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. was ordered to pay $5 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages. After deliberating for five hours, the jury unanimously determined that R.J. Reynolds was 77.5 percent responsible for Mr. Buonomo’s death, compared with 22.5 percent responsibility for the deceased. Of the 19 “Engle Progeny” cases that have reached a jury verdict since February 2009, 16 of the verdicts have been for the plaintiffs.

See the Sun-Sentinel’s account.

Louisiana Court of Appeals Orders Tobacco Companies to Pay Over $230 Million for Court-Approved Smoking Cessation Program

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Contact: Edward L. Sweda or Mark Gottlieb

(617) 373-8462 or (617) 373-2026

Nearly fourteen years after the lawsuit was originally filed, the Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit on Friday affirmed a trial court judgment in Scott v. American Tobacco Co., et al., that the major American tobacco companies must fund a smoking cessation program to benefit more than 200,000 Louisiana smokers.

Attorney Steve J. Herman, who represents the plaintiffs, said: “after a three-year trial and a six-year appeals process going all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, we are happy with the court’s unanimous decision, and optimistic that the court-supervised programs awarded by the jury in 2004 can now be funded, so that smokers can get assistance in quitting from qualified Louisiana health care providers.”  Attorney Herman can be reached at 504-680-0554.

Edward L. Sweda, Jr., Senior Attorney for the Tobacco Products Liability Project (TPLP), a project of the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) based at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, welcomed the unanimous decision, which he described as “a clear victory for the health of thousands of Louisiana smokers who will benefit from the four components of the smoking cessation program approved by the Louisiana Court of Appeal in 2007.”  Those four components are: 1) reimbursement of smoking-cessation related medication; 2) telephone quit lines; 3) health intervention systems; and 4) intensive cessation programs.

“This case is a trailblazer,” added Richard A. Daynard, founder of TPLP and a Northeastern University Law Professor.   “Attorneys in the other 49 states should file similar claims so that their citizens can also get the benefits of this program,” he concluded

Tobacco Products Liability Project hails $244 million punitive damages award against Philip Morris as “entirely proportionate to the level of reprehensible misconduct by the company”

Friday, November 20th, 2009

A Fort Lauderdale, Florida jury on the afternoon of November 19, 2009 returned a nearly $300 million dollar ($55 million in compensatory damages and $244 million in punitive damages) verdict against tobacco giant Philip Morris in the trial of Naugle vs. Philip Morris. The three-week trial featured the testimony of the plaintiff, Luncinda (Cindy) Naugle, who started smoking in 1968 at the age of 20 and who quit smoking in 1993. Ms. Naugle now suffers from severe emphysema.   She is represented by the Kelley Uustal Law Firm in Fort Lauderdale. [Contact Attorney Bob Kelley at 954-522-6601.]

Edward L. Sweda, Jr., Senior Attorney for the Tobacco Products Liability Project (TPLP) at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, was delighted with the jury’s verdict. “Clearly, this jury recognized the outrageous and reprehensible misconduct by Philip Morris and appropriately expressed its outrage by awarding $244,000,000 in punitive damages. This jury went far beyond a slap on the wrists and, instead, hit Philip Morris hard in order to punish the company for its extraordinary wrongdoing and to deter Philip Morris and other tobacco companies from committing similar wrongdoing in the future,” Sweda said.

Mark Gottlieb, TPLP’s Director, noted that “trial lawyers should be encouraged by the success that plaintiffs in Florida have been able to achieve when juries have had the chance to review the evidence of cigarette makers’ astonishing misconduct.”

Thursday’s verdict was the tenth verdict this year in Engle progeny cases in Florida. 8 out of those 10 verdicts have been for the plaintiffs; the jury verdict in the Naugle case was the largest of the eight plaintiff verdicts. Thousands of other Engle progeny cases remain in the pipeline, awaiting trial in Florida.

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The Tobacco Products Liability Project (TPLP) is a project of the Public Health Advocacy Institute, which is based at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston.

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