Smoker’s Widow Nets $26.6 Million Verdict In Latest Post-Engle Tobacco Trial

Smoker’s Widow Nets $26.6 Million Verdict In Latest Post-Engle Tobacco Trial

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — (Mealey’s) In the latest setback for the tobacco industry among Engle progeny cases, a Florida jury yesterday awarded $26.6 million to the widow of a smoker who died from lung cancer in 1994 (Robin Cohen v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., et al., No. 07-11515, Fla. Cir., 17th Jud. Cir., Broward Co.).

Nathan Cohen smoked from age 14 in 1940 until he died in 1994.  His widow, Robin Cohen, pursued wrongful death claims as part of the Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc. (945 So.2d 1246 [Fla. Sup. 2006], cert denied, 128 S.Ct. 96 [2007]) class action.

After the class was broken up, Cohen filed an individual suit against Philip Morris USA Inc. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (RJR) in the 17th Judicial Circuit Court for Broward County, stating claims for negligence, strict liability, concealment/fraud and conspiracy.  The defendants argued that the decedent died of cancer of the pleura, not lung cancer, and therefore his disease was not caused by smoking.

Trial began before Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld on March 1.  At the conclusion of Phase I on March 10, the six-member jury deliberated approximately two hours before determining that the decedent had lung cancer and that cigarette smoking was the legal cause of his disease and death.

In Phase II, the jury found after about 5-1/2 hours of deliberations that the defendants were liable for negligence, strict liability and concealment/fraud and awarded $10 million in compensatory damages; they also assessed $10 million each in punitive damages against both defendants.  Because the jury apportioned one-third of the liability to the decedent himself, it proportionally reduced the compensatory award to $6.6 million, resulting in a net verdict of $26.6 million.

RJR and Philip Morris said that they would appeal the verdict.

[Editor's Note:  Full coverage will be in the April issue.  In the meantime, the Phase II verdict form is available at www.mealeysonline.com or by calling the Customer Support Department at 1-800-833-9844. Document #04-100416-002V.  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.