Florida Jury Awards 2nd Post-Engle Smoker Verdict, $86,000

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- For the second time in a week, a Florida jury on Feb. 15 found for a post-Engle tobacco plaintiff but issued a relatively small award of compensatory damages (Despinda Hatziyannakis, as Personal Representative of Christos Hatziyannakis v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., et al., No. CACE07036751, Fla. Cir., 17th Jud. Cir.). 

The Broward County jury awarded $86,000, based on a total award of $114,609 and allocation of 68 percent of the fault to the late Christos Hatziyannakis.  

The 17th Judicial Circuit Court jury found that Hatziyannakis' addiction to cigarettes was the legal cause of his death and that cigarettes were a defective and dangerous product but also found Philip Morris not negligent in Hatziyannakis' death.  The jury also found no reliance or gross negligence on the part of Philip Morris, closing the door on punitive damages.  

Philip Morris said in a press release issued the same day that it was the first plaintiff verdict against the company after six consecutive defense victories.  The plaintiffs had sought millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages, Philip Morris said.   

The company said it will appeal the verdict based on what it described as improper rulings by Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld involving the introduction of "general findings by a prior jury that are unconnected to the facts in this case."  

"Engle progeny" refers to cases stemming from Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc. (945 So. 2d 1246 [Fla. 2006]), a class action lawsuit originally filed against cigarette makers in 1994.  The class was decertified after a $145 billion Florida punitive damages verdict, but the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the thousands of individual cases could proceed using liability findings from the class trial. 

Hatziyannakis was a Greek immigrant who smoked for approximately 27 years, according to a published report, before dying of lung cancer. 

[Editor's Note:  Full coverage will be in the March issue of Mealey's Litigation Report: Tobacco.  In the meantime, the verdict slip is available at www.mealeysonline.com or by calling the Customer Support Department at 1-800-833-9844.  Document #04-110316-005V.  For all of your legal news needs, please visit www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys.] 

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For more information, call editor Michael Lefkowitz at 215-988-7732, or e-mail him at michael.lefkowitz@lexisnexis.com.