Litigation

Florida Jury Awards Smoker’s Family $3M, Will Consider Punitive Damages Next (Watch Closing Arguments Video Excerpts)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — (Mealey’s) A jury in Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit Court for Duval County on Nov. 24 awarded a total of $3,094,000 to the family of a woman who alleged that her death from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) was caused by her 35 years of smoking (Andy R. Allen, et al. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., et al., No. 16-2007-CA-008311- BXXX-MAX, Fla. 4th Jud. Cir., Duval Co.). 

The jury also found that punitive damages are warranted in the case.  Testimony on that issue was scheduled to begin on Nov. 25. 

Addiction 

The jury found that Patricia Allen was addicted to cigarettes manufactured by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris USA and that her addiction was the cause of her COPD and death.  The jury found further that the companies concealed information about the health risks of smoking and that Allen’s reliance on their representations was a legal cause of her death.  The jury assigned 24 percent responsibility to Reynolds, 6 percent to Philip Morris and the remaining 70 percent to Allen. 

The award consists of $2,204,000 for Allen’s widower, Andy Allen, and $890,000 for her daughter, Amber Allen. 

COPD 

Patricia Allen, who was born in 1948, began smoking as a teenager and eventually smoked up to three packs a day.  She was diagnosed with COPD in 1996 and died in 2009.  Her family contended that she attempted to quit smoking on numerous occasions, trying to go cold turkey and using gum, patches and hypnosis. 

In closing arguments, Keith Mitnik of Morgan & Morgan in Jacksonville, representing Allen’s family, told the jury that addiction was a legal cause of Allen’s death.  “If addiction doesn’t play a part in why someone smokes enough to get sick,” he said, “then what is addiction?” 

Mitnik dismissed the notion that his production of copies of advertising used by tobacco companies over the years was an attempt to inflame the jury.  “No!  It’s highly relevant to the circumstances.  Because parents . . . why did parents smoke in that era that the kids modeled after?  These kinds of ads.”

(Watch a video excerpt of plaintiff attorney Keith Mitnik’s closing argument.)  

Mark Belasic of Jones Day in Cleveland, representing Reynolds, told the jury that “Mrs. Allen knew that smoking was dangerous and continued to smoke.  Mr. Allen said so and we know from her family that she knew the risks as far back as 1966.  We know that when the plaintiffs admit she caused her own injury, she had the ability to quit.” 

(Watch a video excerpt of defense attorney Mark Belasic’s closing argument.) 

The case is part of the Engle class action, which that was decertified after trial in 2006 by the Florida Supreme Court (Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 [Fla. 2006] ])[enhanced opinion available to lexis.com subscribers]. The court allowed approximately 700,000 class members to pursue individual claims using findings of fact from the original Engle trial). 

Judge Waddell Wallace is presiding. 

In addition to Mitnik, Allen is represented by Antonio Luciano and Gregory Prysock of Morgan & Morgan in Jacksonville and Mark Nation of the Nation Law Firm in Longwood, Fla.  In addition to Belasic, Reynolds is represented by Dennis Murphy of Jones Day in Cleveland.  Philip Morris is represented by Frank Kelly of Shook Hardy & Bacon in San Francisco.

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