Miller Tobacco Trial: Big Punitive Damages Award

Posted by msch on Mar 7, 2011 10:13:00 AM

Angelo Patacca attorneyMrozek v. R.J. Reynolds (Jacksonville, Florida). 

The jury that awarded $6M in compensatory damages to the children of deceased smoker Jackie Miller added another $11.3M in punitive damages, for a total damage award of $17.3M against Lorillard Tobacco, which was the only defendant in the trial. The award was also the highest in an Engle-progeny tobacco trial so far in 2011.

Terrell Hogan's Angelo Patacca described to the jury during the punitive phase closing argument the ways in which Lorillard provided ads that were factually accurate yet nonetheless omitted enough information to mislead consumers as to the underlying truth. Mr. Patacca also cited examples of the Tobacco industry's attempt to undermine the Surgeon's General's efforts to accurately communicate the dangers of cigarette smoking. Mr. Patacca suggested that an additional $18M in punitive damages would be an appropriate punitive damages award: an additional $6M each to recognize the harm, punish the misconduct, and deter future misbehavior. Or, alternately, $6M each for what they knew, when they knew it, and what they did with the information.

In his closing on behalf of Lorillard, Shook Hardy Bacon's Dan Molony told the jury that Lorillard had already learned its lesson, and has been moving in the right direction for a decade. Further, said Mr. Molony, there was no need to be "heard" by Lorillard because the jury's prior $6M verdict and compensatory damages award had been heard. "Whacking Lorillard again and again isn't necessary," said Mr. Molony. "We've been whacked already by your verdict. To do so, I would submit, serves no real purpose. And ladies and gentlemen, punishment without a purpose should not be permitted in this court. Punishment without purpose isn't justice -- it's revenge. The message I respectfully suggest that you should send with your to tell them: Step up to the plate, take responsibility for your actions, and by doing so you'll be treated fairly. You won't be whacked again and again and again for the same thing."

In his closing rebuttal, Mr. Patacca reviewed for the jury some of the reasons why the jury might doubt that Lorillard had learned its lessons and was a different company. "I would submit to you," said Mr. Patacca, "that you have no evidence to suggest -- other than being regulated and told what to do -- there have been no changes in the mentality and the intent of the company. The only difference is now they want to be applauded because they follow the law."

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CVN webcast Mrozek v. R.J. Reynolds live.

Topics: Toxic Torts, Products Liability, Engle Progeny, Mrozek v. Lorillard, Tobacco Litigation