FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - (Mealey's) A Florida jury awarded a woman suffering from smoking-caused emphysema more than $24 million July 8 in the latest Engle progeny win for the plaintiffs after finding that she was addicted to cigarettes and that her addiction led directly to her disease (Ellen Tate v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., et al, No. CACE07021723, Fla. Cir., 17th Jud. Cir., Broward Co.).
Ellen Tate began smoking cigarettes manufactured by Philip Morris USA Inc. when she was 13 and continued smoking its Parliament, Marlboro and Merit brands for 37 years until 1997, a year after she was diagnosed with emphysema. She sued Philip Morris USA Inc. and other tobacco companies 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 ) that was broken up by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006.
Tate asserted that she was unable to quit smoking before her diagnosis despite numerous attempts. As a result of her smoking-caused emphysema, she said, she is on oxygen 24 hours a day and has between 16 and 21 percent lung capacity remaining.
Philip Morris conceded that Tate was addicted to cigarettes but pointed out that many other long-time smokers quit every day. In any case, it said, Tate did little or nothing to attempt to quit smoking, even failing to use a physician-prescribed nicotine patch. After her diagnosis, she found the motivation to quit, Philip Morris noted.
Trial began June 28 before Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld and concluded July 7. The six-member jury deliberated for approximately one day before concluding that Tate's addiction was the legal cause of her emphysema and awarding $8 million in compensatory damages and $16.2 million in punitive damages.
The jury assigned 64 percent of the liability to Philip Morris and 36 percent to Tate, meaning that the verdict will be reduced proportionately.
[Editor's Note: Full coverage will be in the July 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 #04-100723-011V. For all of your legal news needs, please visit www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys.]
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