April 1, 2011 - 77-year-old Daytona Beach woman has won $300,000 in what likely is the first verdict against a tobacco company in Central Florida out of thousands of suits filed statewide by ailing, longtime smokers.
A Volusia jury has decided that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company is partly liable for the lung cancer suffered by Stella Koballa. A circuit judge will review the verdict at a future court hearing. In the Volusia case, jurors made their decision on Thursday after learning in the three-week trial that Koballa had smoked for 45 years, starting with a pack of Lucky Strikes when she was 16. She testified that she was addicted to nicotine, ultimately quitting in 1996 when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Ben Reid, an attorney for R.J. Reynolds, declined comment because a final ruling is pending. Jurors decided that Koballa was 70 percent liable for he cancer, while the tobacco company was 30 percent liable.
"We're happy with the result and we feel this was a victory for Ms. Koballa," said her attorney, Bill Ogle, whose Daytona Beach law firm, Mayfield & Ogle, is handling about 150 similar cases in Orange, Brevard and Volusia counties.
Ben Reid, an attorney for R.J. Reynolds, declined comment because a final ruling is pending.
Koballa and other longtime smokers were originally covered under a class-action lawsuit against the tobacco companies that resulted in a $145 billion jury award, the largest amount in punitive damages in U.S. history. The lead plaintiff was the late Dr. Howard Engle, a Miami pediatrician.
In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court threw out the Engle award, ruling that longtime smokers would have to file individual lawsuits against the cigarette makers. But the new lawsuits are allowed to use some of the Engle case evidence that tobacco companies had concealed — that smoking cigarettes is addictive and harmful to a smoker's health.
After the Supreme Court ruling, more than 8,000 cases, now called the "Engle progeny," were filed and are still wading through the Florida and federal courts.
The "Engle progeny" cases stem from Engle versus R.J. Reynolds, a landmark class-action lawsuit originally filed against cigarette makers in 1994. 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..)
Six years later, a Florida jury found that cigarettes cause lung cancer and other illness and ordered the tobacco companies to pay a record $145 billion in punitive damages to sick smokers. But the Florida Supreme Court threw out the award in 2006 and decertified the original cases of about 700,000 Florida smokers, but ruled the individual cases could proceed. That allowed for thousands of individual cases to move forward through Florida's courts. (Cigarette Makers Face Thousands of New Florida Lawsuits..)
Only 40 cases have reached juries, with about 27 verdicts awarding damages to the plaintiffs, said Edward L. Sweda, Jr., a senior attorney at the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, which tracks these cases.
Jury awards have ranged from $86,000 to more than $46 million. "Overall, that is a pretty good track record," said Sweda. "The larger awards, especially, show that juries have been outraged at the history of the conduct of tobacco companies."
Meanwhile, the smaller awards and the cases that tobacco companies did win show how juries also have to weigh the personal decisions of the longtime smokers.
In the Volusia case, jurors made their decision on Thursday after learning in the three-week trial that Koballa had smoked for 45 years, starting with a pack of Lucky Strikes when she was 16. She testified that she was addicted to nicotine, ultimately quitting in 1996 when she was diagnosed with lung cancer.
The majority of these cases involve elderly smokers who started well before the health warnings came out,” McGrane said. “It becomes a more difficult decision for a jury in a case in which the smoker did know the health risks.”
'But the stakes are huge,” he said. “Imagine if all 8,000 plaintiffs won just $300,000. That’s $2.4 billion in verdicts against the tobacco companies.”
References: Longtime smoker from Daytona wins $300,000 in suit against R.J. Reynolds
April 11, 2011 by Ludmilla Lelis, Orlando Sentinel, April 11, 2011; Longtime smoker from Daytona wins $300,000 in suit against R.J. Reynolds, mokersinfo.net, www.orlandosentinel.com, April 11, 2011.
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Jury decides in favor of Philip Morris USA in Engle trial in Clay County..;
Florida - First smoking case appealed to Fla. Supreme Court..;
Florida smoker wins case - awarded compensatory damages of $10,000 ..;
Florida - tobacco cases clog dockets of courts..;
Florida - jury snaps tobacco’s recent winning streak with an $80 million award..;
Florida - jury returns verdict in favor of Philip Morris USA, 5th consecutive time..;
Florida is tide turning? - 4th time in 2-weeks Philip Morris USA wins court cases..;
Florida - PM USA to challenge verdict in the Piendle v. RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris USA case..;
Florida - tobacco companies ordered to pay $2.2 million to widow of smoker..;
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...