Florida - jury reduces $300 million verdict against Altria Group to $38.9 million..

February 25, 2010 - On Friday, February 5th a Broward Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey E. Streitfeld ruled the largest individual award to a former Florida smoker against the tobacco industry will not stand.

Judge Streitfeld has now reduced an almost $300 million verdict against Altria Group Inc.’s Philip Morris USA unit to $38.9 million in a lawsuit brought by a former smoker who suffers from emphysema. “The court found that the jury’s verdict was grossly excessive and unsupported by the evidence presented at trial,” the cigarette maker said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.

A Fort Lauderdale jury last year awarded Cindy Naugle $56.6 million in compensatory damages and $244 million in punitive damages. The jury found Naugle was 10 percent responsible for her injuries and reduced the compensatory damages by that amount.
Naugle started smoking in 1968 when she was 20 years old.

Under Florida law, Naugle — the sister of former Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle — can accept the reduced award or opt for a new trial on the damages award issue. But her attorney, Robert Kelley, said he will try to get a state appeals court to reverse Streitfeld's decision.

Philip Morris also intends to appeal the lower damage award, said Murray Garnick, associate general counsel and senior vice president at Philip Morris parent Altria Group Inc. Philip Morris also said it will appeal, saying that no damages were warranted.

The suit was one of about 4,000 filed after a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision decertifying a statewide class action. The court allowed smokers to sue individually and extended the time for them to do so.

The case is Lucinda Naugle v. Philip Morris USA, 07-036736, Broward County Circuit Court, Florida (Fort Lauderdale).

References: Altria’s Philip Morris Gets Verdict of Almost $300 Million Cut by Edvard Pettersson (epettersson@bloomberg.net), Bloomberg.com, 2/25/2010; $300M Smoker's Lawsuit Award Cut to $39M by AP / CURT ANDERSON, Time.com, 2/24/2010.

Related Naugle news briefs:
Florida - $300 million jury award to former smoker overturned..;
Florida - jury awards $300 million in ex-smoker's suit..;