$10M Verdict, Plus Punitives to Come, Strikes Tobacco Giants in Wrongful Death Lung Cancer Lawsuit

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Mar 23, 2015 1:52:52 PM

Alex Alvarez argues that the weight of evidence, including testimony from Paul Pollari's treating physician, proves Pollari died of smoking-related, primary lung cancer. Jurors awarded Alvarez's client, Rose Pollari, $10 million in compensatory damages Monday in her wrongful death suit against Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds. Phase II of the trial, to determine punitive damages, is expected to begin Monday afternoon at 2 p.m. Click here to watch live and on-demand coverage of the trial. 


Fort Lauderdale, FL—Jurors awarded $10 million, plus potential punitive damages, to a smoker’s widow after they found tobacco makers Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds responsible for the smoker’s fatal lung cancer. Pollari v. R.J. Reynolds, et al.,14-001563CA19

The jury needed less than four hours to render their verdict in Rose Pollari’s suit for the 1994 death of her husband, Paul, who smoked up to two-and-a-half packs of cigarettes a day for more than 40 years.  Pollari filed the Engle progeny suit, claiming that her husband’s nicotine addiction led to his lung cancer.

Watch Video from Tobacco Trials However the defense argued during the two-week trial that medical evidence was insufficient to establish either that Paul Pollari suffered from primary lung cancer or that it caused his death. Defense counsel noted the fact that routine destruction of medical documents prior to the suit's filing left few remaining medical records detailing the origin of Pollari’s cancer.

During closing arguments Friday, King & Spalding’s Ursula Henninger, representing Reynolds, told jurors that Pollari’s physician, Dr. Howard Abel, could not remember specifically treating Pollari and that medical records were insufficient to support the doctor's opinion that Pollari's cancer began in his lungs.

Henninger reminnded jurors that a cytology report, one of the few remaining medical records to detail Pollari's cancer, described the disease as a "poorly differentiated carcinoma." She told jurors that the term, according to testimony from defense pathologist "is simply another way of saying you can't determine the cell type. Poorly differentiated carcinoma is not, it is not, the same thing as saying lung cancer."

However, Rose Pollari's attorneys argued that Abel was the only physician at trial who treated Pollari and the only one to testify to a reasonable degree of medical certainty as to what killed Pollari. During closings, The Alvarez Law Firm’s Alex Alvarez, representing Rose Pollari, noted that Abel completed Paul Pollari’s death certificate and attested that he had died of lung cancer that had spread to his brain. Alvarez argued that Abel, regardless of the current dearth of medical documents, must have relied on medical records to complete the death certificate in 1994. "How else would he have known that (Pollari) had lung cancer? How else would he have known that it metastasized to the brain, unless he did all of those tests and scans?" Alvarez asked. "Where did he get that? If he didn't do it, why would he write it on the death certificate?" 

In reaching its decision Monday, the jury found Reynolds and Philip Morris each 42.5% responsible for Pollari's death and apportioned 15% of responsibility to Paul Pollari. Jurors also determined the tobacco makers were liable for potential punitive damages. Phase two of the proceedings, to determine potential punitives, is expected to begin Monday afternoon.

Rose Pollari’s suit is one of thousands of Engle progeny cases in Florida, which stem from a 2006 state supreme court decision decertifying Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a class-action tobacco case originally filed in 1994. Although the state’s high court ruled Engle cases must be tried individually, it found plaintiffs could rely on certain jury findings in the original verdict, including the determination that tobacco companies had placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and had conspired to hide the dangers of smoking. To rely on those findings, individual Engle progeny plaintiffs such as Pollari must prove the smoker’s addiction to cigarettes and a causal link between the addiction and a smoking-related injury.

Attorneys were not immediately available for comment. 

Related information

Attorneys in the case include Kelley Uustal's Todd McPharlin and Eric Rosen, and The Alvarez Law Firm's Alex Alvarez, representing Rose Pollari.  Shook Hardy's Kenneth Reilly represents Phillip Morris USA and King & Spalding's Ursula Henninger represents R.J. Reynolds. 

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Topics: Negligence, Products Liability, tobacco, Engle Progeny, Pollari v. R.J. Reynolds et al