Florida Federal Jury Adds $2.5M In Punitive Damages For Smoker With Lung Disease

Florida Federal Jury Adds $2.5M In Punitive Damages For Smoker With Lung Disease

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — (Mealey’s) A Florida federal jury added $2.5 million in punitive damages Friday to $2.5 million in compensatory damages it had awarded May 15 to a woman who said three companies’ cigarettes caused chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (Pauline Burkhart, et al. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., et al., 3:09-cv-10727, M.D. Fla.). 

(Punitive damages verdict slip available.  Document #04-140521-015V.  Compensatory damages verdict slip available.  Document #04-140521-013V.

The jury before U.S. Judge William G. Young in the Middle District of Florida 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 and was addicted to the defendants’ cigarettes and that the companies conspired to conceal the risks of smoking to Burkhart’s detriment.  

The jury awarded Burkhart $5 million in compensatory damages but assigned 50 percent of the fault to the plaintiff.  The jury assigned 25 percent fault to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (RJR), 15 percent to Philip Morris USA Inc. and 10 percent to Lorillard Tobacco Co.  The jury assessed $1.25 million in punitive damages to RJR, $750,000 to Philip Morris and $500,000 to Lorillard. 

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 the District of Massachusetts but was appointed in August 2013 to oversee thousands of cases in the Middle District of Florida. 

Counsel 

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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