Florida Jury Awards Smoker's Widow $4.5 Million But Splits Blame

Florida Jury Awards Smoker's Widow $4.5 Million But Splits Blame

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - A Florida jury awarded $4.5 million to the 87-year-old widow of a longtime smoker April 13, but tempered her eventual compensation by assigning nearly half of the responsibility to the decedent (Mary Tullo v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, et al., No. 2008-CA-035457, Fla. Cir., 15th Jud. Cir., Palm Beach Co.). 

The jury in the 15th Judicial Circuit Court for Palm Beach County found cigarettes to be an unreasonably dangerous and defective product and that Dominick Tullo's addiction to cigarettes was the legal cause of his death.  The jury did not find that the companies concealed material information about the risks of cigarettes to Tullo's detriment.  

The bulk of the award was against Philip Morris USA Inc., manufacturer of Parliament, which according to a published report, Dominick Tullo smoked for the last 30 years of his life.  The Liggett Group and Lorillard Tobacco, which produced other brands he smoked, were each assigned 5 percent of liability.  The jury cleared R.J. Reynolds of any liability.  The jury found that Tullo, who was 74 when he died of lung cancer in 1998, to be 45 percent responsible for his own death.  

The jury failed to find gross negligence on the part of any defendant company, closing the door on punitive damages.  

Tullo was a member of the class decertified in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc. (945 So.2d 1246 [Fla. Sup. 2006], cert denied, 128 S.Ct. 96 [2007]), who was allowed by the Florida Supreme Court to use evidence developed in the liability stage of that case.  The case was tried before Judge Meenu Sasser. 

[Editor's Note:  Full coverage will be in the April 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 #04-110420-034V.  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.