First Florida Tobacco Trial Ends in $8 Million Award For Plaintiff

After two days of deliberation, a Florida jury has awarded the widow of a chain smoker $8 million for her husband’s death.  According to The Wall Street Journal, the case had been closely watched in Florida, were 8000 other <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/light_cigarettes">tobacco injury lawsuits are slated to go to trial.

Florida is the site of so many tobacco lawsuit trails because of  a state Supreme Court decision in the case of Engle vs. Liggett.  The 1994 class action lawsuit involved thousands of Florida smokers and their families who were seeking compensation from tobacco companies for the injuries they sustained from smoking. In 1999, a jury agreed that cigarette makers deceived smokers about the safety of their product, and awarded $145 billion in punitive damages to the plaintiffs.  But a Florida appeals court reversed the decision in 2003.

In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court refused to reinstate the punitive damages and stripped the lawsuit of its class-action status. However, the court allowed individuals who could have won judgments under the original verdict to use findings from the yearlong jury trial – including that cigarettes are addictive and cause cancer – to bring new cases against the cigarette makers. In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the tobacco companies’ appeal of the Florida court’s decision, setting the stage for a deluge of tobacco injury lawsuits in the state.

The Ft. Lauderdale trial that resulted in yesterday’s $8 million award was the first tobacco lawsuit stemming from the Engle decision.   As we reported last week, the jury had already ruled that the death of  55-year-old Stuart Hess in 1997 from lung cancer  was the result of his nicotine addiction.  In the second phase of the trial, the jury ordered  Altria’s Philip Morris unit to pay his widow $3 million dollars in compensatory damages and another $5 million in punitive damages, The Wall Street Journal said.

According to Bloomberg.com, antismoking activists are thrilled with the jury’s decision.  “We’re delighted that the jury saw through Philip Morris’s attempts to blame the smoker” for his injuries,” Ed Sweda, a senior attorney for the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, told Bloomberg “We’ll certainly be looking forward to the 8,000 other trials.”

They won’t have to wait long.  The second such trial is slated to start today in Ft. Lauderdale before the same judge.

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