Florida Jury Awards $25 Million in Punitive Damages in Lorillard Tobacco Company Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Punitive damages of $25 million have been granted to a plaintiff in a Florida tobacco lawsuit, bringing the total awarded to $41 million. Earlier this month, Dorothy Alexander—who sued the Lorillard Tobacco Company, the oldest tobacco company in the U.S., for the wrongful death of her husband—was awarded $20 million in compensatory damages by a Dade County jury. The lawsuit alleged that Coleman Alexander died from small cell lung cancer, the result of his 40-year-addiction to cigarettes, including Kent brand cigarettes marketed by

Dorothy Alexander was represented by Alex Alvarez of the Alvarez Law Firm in Coral Gables, Florida; Gary M. Paige of the Paige Law Firm in Belle Glade, Florida; and Jordan Chaikin, partner with Parker Waichman LLP in Bonita Springs, Florida

According to attorney Alvarez, the Alexanders “ … had an exceptional relationship … and a very close family, so there was no baggage. It was an all-American love story,” wrote Lawyer USA Online. The Alexanders met and fell in love in high school, marrying soon after graduation. They raised three children. Dorothy worked as a nurse; Coleman ran a cleaning company until his death at age 59.

The verdict, said Lawyer USA Online, broke a run of low verdicts and hung juries in the continuing Engle trials against Big Tobacco. In her lawsuit against Lorillard, the maker of Kent cigarettes, Mrs. Alexander alleged that Coleman, who smoked for 40 years, died as a result of lung cancer caused by the cigarettes. Lorillard is expected to appeal.

Mrs. Alexander’s lawsuit was one of thousands of tobacco injury lawsuits spawned by the Florida Supreme Court’s 2006 Engle Decision. Under the standard set by the Engle Decision, Mrs. Alexander only needed to prove that her husband was addicted to cigarettes containing nicotine and that nicotine addiction was a legal cause of his death. The so-called Engle case was a large class action lawsuit filed on behalf of Florida citizens who suffered from smoking-related illnesses in 1994. In 2000, a jury returned a verdict for the Engle plaintiffs, including $145 billion in punitive damages. An appellate court overturned the jury’s decision and reversed the award in 2004.

In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the appellate court decision and de-certified the class. The Supreme Court ruled that members of the original suit would be allowed to file individual lawsuits against tobacco companies. The decision also stipulated that the issues already decided in the original class action lawsuit would hold true for the individual lawsuits, including findings that tobacco products are defective, dangerous, addictive, and the cause of 16 major diseases; the decision also allowed findings that Big Tobacco acted negligently and intentionally concealed information from consumers about the impact of cigarettes on their health to stand.

Coleman’s smoking habit began when he was 14 in 1950, he switched to filtered Kents in 1958 in response to marketing that the brand offered a safer alternative to his unfiltered brand. Plaintiffs attorneys argued that the company presented an illusion that filtered cigarettes were safer. Coleman believed the big corporations wouldn’t sell a product they knew was dangerous, his attorneys said. When warning labels were being included on cigarette packaging in 1966, Big Tobacco thwarted those messages with advertising meant to make the link between smoking and sickness confusing, the plaintiff’s attorneys claimed, according to Lawyer USA Online.

A Federal Trade Commission (FTC) study was also presented to show warnings were not effective in the face of intense marketing programs. Also, industry documents revealed it was fully aware it covered up what it knew about the dangers of cigarettes, said Lawyer USA Online.

According to a prior press release issued by Parker Waichman LLP, jurors found that Lorillard was 80% responsible for Mr. Alexander’s death in 1995 and agreed his widow was entitled to punitive damages. In the damages phase, the jury was asked to award $12.6 million and came back with a total of $20 million. The award will be reduced to $16 million based on the 20% fault against Coleman, noted Lawyer USA Online.

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