Photo: Matt Rourke/AP
(3/25/10) FT. LAUDERDALE, FL – For the second time in less than six months, a jury in Broward County has awarded a multi-million dollar verdict against big tobacco.
The jury before Circuit Judge Jeffery Streitfeld awarded $26.6 million to the Plaintiff, the widow of Nathan Cohen, who died at age 68 from lung cancer, heart disease and emphysema. The award included $20 million in punitive damages alone. This was the first time that two different tobacco companies were held liable at the same time.
The suit named two major companies, R.J. Reynolds and Phillip Morris, which the jury found liable for causing Cohen’s death. Each company was hit with its own $10 million punitive damage award, while $6.6 million were awarded for compensatory damages. According to trial testimony, Cohen, who had been smoking since the age of 14, tried to quit smoking numerous times, including using nicotine gum, anti-smoking seminars and even hypnosis, all to no avail. Cohen eventually died from lung cancer in 1994, having smoked Salem, Camel, and Benson & Hedges brand cigarettes since 1940.
The burden of proof was simplified earlier by the Florida Supreme Court’s Engle decision, which permitted the claimants from introducing the Engle jury’s factual determinations that cigarettes were addictive and harmful, and that the tobacco industry knew of this fact and intentionally concealed it as established fact in their own cases. The thousands of class-plaintiffs in Engle were allowed to file individual lawsuits, effectively opening the floodgates of litigation against big tobacco, including nearly 8,000 lawsuits filed within a year of the Engle decision.
In November, another Broward County jury awarded a plaintiff a record $300 million verdict against Phillip Morris, including $244 million in punitive damages.