Widow Wins $30 million in Wrongful Death Suit Against Tobacco Company

A Pensacola, Florida court ruling could make big waves when it comes to tobacco industry lawsuits.

Last week a 6-member jury awarded $30 million to a widow after her husband died of lung cancer due to smoking. According to the family's lawyer, Hilda Martin's husband Benny began smoking before warning labels on cigarette packs were required, and thus the tobacco company, R.J. Reynolds, was responsible for promoting an addictive product while hiding its dangers.

This case is significant because it is one of the first cases to be tried after the 2006 Florida Supreme Court ruling that held that smokers could not bring a class-action law suit against tobacco companies. If the ruling had gone otherwise, smokers and their survivors would have been allowed to proceed with a massive suit against R.J. Reynolds, Phillip Morris, and others tobacco companies. The Florida Supreme Court ruling instead suggested that complainants proceed individually. The Martin case is only the 7th tobacco case so far to be tried since the 2006 ruling, and the only one that resulted in such a large verdict.

In a Bloomberg article, the R.J. Reynold’s lawyer, Mark Belasic, was quoted as saying “We think the jury verdict is an outlier. There have been six of these individual ‘Engle’ lawsuits and no one has been anywhere near this type of verdict.” (“Engle” is the name of the case that decided that smokers could sue individually. It also extended the time limit in which they could bring suit.)

Belasic’s words to the contrary, the success of other recent lawsuits suggests that the tides may be turning for big tobacco. The Bloomberg article also reported a recent “$8 million decision against Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris USA unit in February and a $700,000 verdict against Vector Group Ltd.’s Liggett Group unit last month.” (Liggett was the original defendant in the Engle case.) Apparently both companies plan to appeal. There is no word yet whether R.J. Reynolds plans to do the same, though it seems likely that the company will follow in its industry companion’s footsteps.

These tobacco lawsuits are product liability lawsuits. In product liability lawsuits, companies who are proven to have manufactured or sold goods that ended up harming someone are responsible for compensating them for injuries caused by that merchandise. Recent product liability lawsuits include the cases against pharmaceuticals like Avandia and Vioxx, and the cases against household products, such as defective Chinese drywall.

If you or someone you know has been injured or made ill as a result of using a defective product, you may have legal recourse. For a thorough investigation and caring, aggressive representation, call MLN Law at (404) 531-9700 for more information.

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Jury awards $30 million to Pensacola widow in smoking suit, St. Petersburg Times