August 7, 2010 - A jury Thursday, August 5th ordered Big Tobacco to pay a Royal Palm Beach widow $2.2 million for enticing her husband to smoke, causing him to die of lung cancer at age 55.
In addition, the jury of three men and three women found R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris had acted recklessly by promoting cigarettes despite years of medical research that showed smoking kills. The finding sets up the next stage of the trial, where the same jurors will decide how much the companies should pay 60-year-old Liz Piendle in punitive damages.
The verdict came after roughly three days of deliberations following a nearly month-long trial that detailed why Charles Piendle started smoking in his teens and continued a two-pack-a-day habit for three decades before quitting seven years before his death in 1996.
The case marks the first time one of hundreds of cases pending in Palm Beach County Circuit Court, accusing tobacco companies of causing smoking-related diseases and death, has gone to trial. An estimated 8,000 similar cases are pending statewide.
During closing arguments this week, attorneys representing Liz Piendle said her husband believed years of lies from cigarette-makers. "If you lie, deceive and conceal and kill people, that is not right," attorney Greg Barnhart told the jury during closing arguments. "They killed people for profits over safety."
He played news clips of tobacco executives testifying before Congress, insisting that cigarettes were neither dangerous nor addictive. Jurors were shown years of television of cigarettes ads, many using celebrities, that promoted the joys of smoking.
Attorneys representing the two tobacco giants countered that Piendle could have quit like millions of other Americans. Since a landmark 1964 surgeon general's report, it was widely known that cigarettes are inherently dangerous, said Peter Biersteker, who represents R.J. Reynolds. "There's no evidence that Mr. Piendle chose to become a regular smoker because of advertising," he said.
Attorney Frank Kelly, who represents Philip Morris, argued that even if his company hadn't produced Marlboros and Merits, which Piendle favored at times over the years, the Marine vet would have smoked another brand. Therefore, he said, his company couldn't be held responsible for Piendle's death.
Attorney Jack Scarola scoffed at the argument. "What kind of defense is that?" he asked. "If we didn't break into Liz Piendle's house, someone else would have? If we didn't kill Charlie Piendle, somebody else would have?"
The Piendle case, like the other pending cases, sprung from a 1994 Miami class-action lawsuit. A jury in 1999 awarded smokers and their survivors $145 billion in damages after finding that cigarette companies negligently omitted and concealed facts about the dangers of smoking. Background: The original Florida lawsuit was filed in 1994 by a Miami Beach pediatrician, Dr. Howard Engle, who had smoked for decades and couldn't quit. The class of smokers was estimated at up to 700,000 when the giant $145 billion award was issued in 2000. (Dr. Howard A. Engle, the veteran pediatrician who lent his name to a landmark class action suit against Big Tobacco, dies..)
In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court threw out the damage award, ruling that smokers must file separate lawsuits to explain how they were uniquely impacted by cigarettes and the tobacco companies' actions. (Cigarette Makers Face Thousands of New Florida Lawsuits..)
Before today's verdict, 21 of the cases had gone to trial. Tobacco companies won three.
Reference: Tobacco companies ordered to pay $2.2 million to widow of smoker, formerly of Royal Palm Beach by Jane Musgrave, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer, The Palm Beach Post News, 8/5/2010 - SEE PHOTOS.
Some related news briefs in Florida:
Florida - individual cases against big tobacco can move forward, can rely on Engle jury findings..;
Florida - jury awards smoker $21M from Philp Morris USA.;
Florida - can big tobacco survive all these lawsuits they continue to lose??;
Florida - big tobacco loses another case..;
Florida - jury awards $26.6 million to smoker's widow..;
Florida - 9 year old case, appeals court upholds $24.8 million award..;
Florida - $300 million jury award to former smoker overturned..;
Florida - jury awards $300 million in ex-smoker's suit..;
Florida - tobacco companies ask court to block ruling..;
Florida - plaintiff drops case to avoid paying legal fees for Philip Morris USA..;
R.J. Reynolds to appeal plaintiff's award of $30 million..;
R.J. Reynolds loses Florida court trial - widow gets $30 million..;
Broward County Florida jury awards widow of smoker $1.5 million..