Last week a Florida jury ordered cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris USA to pay $300 million in damages to Cindy Naugle, 61, a former smoker who is now wheelchair bound because of emphysema.
The award included $244 million in punitive damages and $56.6 million in past and future medical expenses. The award from the Broward Circuit Court jury is the largest of the so-called Engle progeny tobacco cases that have been tried so far. According to data compiled by Bloomberg, the award is the seventh-largest jury verdict in the U.S. this year.
Naugle’s lawsuit is just one of the approximately 8,000 filed after the 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision that threw out a large class action against tobacco companies. The original Engle v. RJ Reynolds verdict, stemming from a 1994 class action lawsuit, was $145 billion – the largest verdict in U.S. history at trial. The 2006 ruling that overturned the verdict on appeal allowed some of the 700,000 plaintiffs known as the “Engle progeny” to file lawsuits on an individual basis. Howard Engle received an undisclosed settlement reported to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Philip Morris is expected to appeal the verdict in the case of Naugle v. Philip Morris USA. Philip Morris spokesman Murray Garnick said there were “numerous erroneous rulings by the trial judge.”
“We believe that the punitive damages award is grossly excessive and a clear violation of constitutional and state law,” added Garnick. “From the beginning, this case was marked by a fundamentally unfair and unconstitutional trial plan that allowed the jury to rely on findings by a prior jury.”
Naugle is a garage officer manager and bookkeeper from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She started smoking in 1968 when she was 20 years old. She said that she thought smoking would make her look older and more sophisticated. She smoked Benson and Hedges cigarettes, which are marketed as sophisticated and feminine. Naugle smoked until she was 45, when she quit in 1993 with the aid of nicotine patches. Incidentally, she is the sister of Fort Lauderdale’s former mayor, Jim Naugle. Attorney Bob Kelley said that Naugle “spends every minute of every day as if she were drowning.” Tubes protrude from her nose and connect to a portable oxygen concentrator so that she can breathe.
Philip Morris has been ordered to pay the entire punitive portion of the verdict ($244 million), plus 90 percent of compensatory damages. The jury decided that Naugle was 10 percent responsible for her injuries.
Naugle’s attorneys, Bob Kelley, Todd Falzone and Todd McPharlin of the Kelley Uustal law firm in Fort Lauderdale, successfully argued that Philip Morris was guilty of fraud since the company had knowingly concealed the fact that cigarettes were addictive and harmful to health.
“She cried,” McPharlin said of Naugle’s reaction to the verdict. “She was just overcome.”
The jury reached the verdict in less than three hours of deliberation. The trial lasted 16 days before Broward County Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld.
So far, the tobacco industry has lost 8 out of 10 individual cases that have gone to trial. As many as 50 more trials against the tobacco industry are scheduled to begin in 2010.
If you’ve been injured because of corporate fraud, contact an experienced Georgia personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Call MLN Law at 404-531-9700 to schedule a free consultation.