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Florida Federal Jury Awards $2.5 Million To Smoker With Lung Disease

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — (Mealey’s) A Florida federal jury awarded $5 million in compensatory damages May 15 to a woman who said three companies’ cigarettes caused chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but the jury assigned 50 percent of the fault to the plaintiff (Pauline Burkhart, et al. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., et al., 3:09-cv-10727, M.D. Fla.). 

(Verdict slip available. Document #04-140521-013V.

The jury before U.S. Judge William G. Young in the Middle District of Florida said punitive damages are warranted but did not render an amount.  The jury found for plaintiff Pauline Burkhart on all issues except comparative fault.  The jury said Burkhart was a member of the Engle v. Liggett Group Inc. (945 So. 2d 1246 [Fla. 2006])) class, was addicted to the defendants’ cigarettes and that the companies conspired to conceal the risks of smoking to Burkhart’s detriment. 

The jury assigned 25 percent fault to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 15 percent to Philip Morris USA Inc. and 10 percent to Lorillard Tobacco Co. 

Liability Findings 

Members of the Engle class go to trial in Florida with certain liability findings preclusively established, but the defendants argued that the court incorrectly implied that Burkhart and her husband, William Burkhart, may avail themselves of the benefits of the original Engle findings regardless of whether the jury finds in favor of class membership. 

Burkhart’s complaint does not specify which cigarettes she smoked and for how long, saying only that she “purchased, smoked, and was and/or is addicted to cigarette products manufactured and sold by Defendants which were the subject of Engle.” 

Judge Young is from District of Massachusetts, but was appointed in August 2013 to oversee thousands of cases in the Middle District of Florida. 


Philip Morris USA Inc. and Lorillard Tobacco Co. are represented by Kenneth J. Reilly of Shook, Hardy & Bacon in Miami; James B. Murphy Jr. and Cecilia M. Bidwell of Shook Hardy in Tampa, Fla.; M. Sean Laane of Arnold & Porter in Washington, D.C.;, and Theodore V.H. Mayer of Hughes, Hubbard & Reed in New York.  R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. is represented by Stephanie E. Parker and John F. Yarber of Jones Day in Atlanta and Robert B. Parrish and J.W. Prichard Jr. of Moseley, Prichard, Parrish, Knight & Jones in Jacksonville.  

The consolidated plaintiffs are represented by Elizabeth J. Cabraser, Richard M. Heimann and Robert J. Nelson of Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein in San Francisco, Kathryn E. Barnett and Kenneth S. Byrd of Lieff Cabraser in Nashville, Tenn., and Norwood S. Wilner, Janna B. Blasingame and Richard J. Lantinberg of The Wilner Firm in Jacksonville.

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