In a precedent-setting case, a Florida jury has awarded the widow of a smoker $8 million in damages in her lawsuit against tobacco company Philip Morris, the Associated Press reported Feb. 19.
The suit is one of about 8,000 filed in Florida after the courts ordered a massive statewide class-action lawsuit, known as Engle, broken up. The award is significant not only because of its size but because the Florida Supreme Court ruled that tobacco companies knowingly sold dangerous products and concealed information about health risks from the public — a finding that served as a fundamental underpinning of the plaintiff’s case.
Elaine Hess, 63, sought $130 million in damages from Philip Morris stemming from the death of her husband, Stuart, a longtime smoker who died in 1997 at age 55. The jury found that Stuart Hess was 58 percent responsible for his addiction but that the tobacco company also was to blame.
Edward L. Sweda Jr. of the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University law school said the verdict was a “serious blow” to Philip Morris. “This jury saw through the smoke screen of Philip Morris’ ’blame-the-smoker-for-smoking’ defense and instead put its focus on the company’s reprehensible conduct,” he said.
Philip Morris parent firm Altria said the verdict “was the result of an unconstitutional and profoundly flawed trial procedure. Fundamental fairness requires the plaintiff to establish basic liability before a jury can award damages.”