Florida Smoker's Widow Gets $2.2 Million In Compensatory Damages; Punitives To Follow

Florida Smoker's Widow Gets $2.2 Million In Compensatory Damages; Punitives To Follow

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - (Mealey's) A Florida jury on Aug. 5 awarded $2.2 million in compensatory damages against a pair of tobacco companies to the widow of a smoker who died of small-cell lung cancer attributed to its products, finding that the smoker's addiction was the legal cause of his death (Margaret E. Piendle v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., No. 2008-CA-038777, Fla. Cir., 15th Jud. Cir., Palm Beach Co.).

Charles Piendle began smoking Lucky Strike brand cigarettes in the late 1950s and continued smoking for about 30 years before finally quitting in 1989; he died from small-cell lung cancer seven years later.

His widow, Margaret Piendle, sued R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (RJR), Philip Morris USA Inc. and other cigarette manufacturers in the 17th Judicial Circuit Court for Broward County as a former member of the class in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc. (945 So.2d 1246 [Fla. Sup. 2006], cert denied, 128 S.Ct. 96 [2007]) that was broken up by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006.

Piendle stated claims for strict liability, fraud by concealment, conspiracy to commit fraud by concealment and negligence and sought punitive and compensatory damages.

Piendle's claims against all but RJR and Philip Morris were resolved before trial, which proceeded against the two companies.  RJR and Philip Morris argued that the decedent was not addicted to cigarettes and could have quit at any time.

Phase I of the trial began before Judge Robin Rosenberg on July 14 and lasted nearly three weeks, and the six-member jury deliberated for about three days before awarding Piendle $4 million in compensatory damages.

The jury found that the decedent's addiction to cigarettes was the legal cause of his death but apportioned 45 percent of the fault to the decedent and 27.5 percent each to RJR and Philip Morris.  Because of the apportionment of fault, the damages awarded to Piendle will be reduced to approximately $2.2 million.

The jury also found that punitive damages were warranted; the trial will move to the punitive damages phase before the same jury.  Judge Rosenberg indicated from the bench that the punitive damages phase would likely begin Aug. 16.

[Editor's Note:  Full coverage will be in the August issue of Mealey's Litigation Report: Tobacco. In the meantime, the verdict form is available at www.mealeysonline.com or by calling the Customer Support Department at 1-800-833-9844. Document #04-100820-008V.  For all of your legal news needs, please visit www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys.]

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For more information, call editor Gerald C. Matics at 610-205-1131, or e-mail him at gerald.matics@lexisnexis.com.