West Palm Beach, FL—A state court jury Tuesday handed down a $7.1 million award to the family of a woman who died from smoking-related lung cancer, after it concluded Philip Morris played a central role in her death. Gentile v. Philip Morris, 2015CA005405.
Jurors needed less than two hours to find Brenda Gentile, a long-time smoker of Philip Morris’ Virginia Slims, Parliament, and Merit brands, died because the tobacco giant hid the health risks of cigarettes the company knew were dangerous.
The verdict, which found Philip Morris 75% responsible for Gentile’s fatal lung cancer and apportioned 25% to Gentile herself, includes a $5 million award to Gentile’s husband Michael, and $1 million each to two of the couple’s children, Nicholas and Christopher.
Gentile, 56, died from lung cancer in 2014 after smoking at least a pack of cigarettes a day for more than 30 years. Her family claims Gentile was deceived by fraudulent tobacco marketing that targeted women and hid the dangers of smoking.
The Gentiles’ attorney, Kelley/Uustal’s Eric Rosen, requested $20 million in damages during Tuesday’s closing arguments.
The Gentile case against Philip Morris is a rare Florida tobacco lawsuit that is not among the thousands of "Engle progeny" cases against the nation’s cigarette companies. Unlike in Engle progeny lawsuits, where the issue of negligence has already been decided and class membership is the primary issue, in the Gentile case, jurors were responsible for determining Philip Morris’ liability on product liability and negligence claims. Additionally, jurors in this case were responsible for deciding whether the tobacco company lied about the health risks of cigarettes, a conclusion reached against the company in the Engle v. Liggett Group Inc. trial, from which the Engle progeny lawsuits stem.
Engle progeny suits make up the bulk of tobacco cases coming before Florida judges. However, the Gentile family cannot claim membership in the Engle class because Gentile's cancer developed long after the cutoff date for Engle class membership.
The eight-day Gentile trial turned on the nature of Philip Morris’ marketing and why Gentile smoked. During Tuesday’s closings, Arnold & Porter’s Keri Arnold, representing Philip Morris, argued that health warnings on the Virginia Slims “Light” cigarettes Gentile smoked ensured she knew the risks associated with the product. “She had all the information she needed to make an informed choice to quit, and in time to avoid getting sick,” Arnold said. “But, unfortunately, she did not.”
However, Rosen argued Gentile was the victim of Philip Morris' plan to engineer cigarettes to be as addictive as possible while fraudulently marketing brands targeted to women and smokers looking for safer alternatives. During Tuesday’s closings, Rosen highlighted years of tobacco industry documents, ranging from psychological studies of female smokers to initiatives designed to stem the decaying public perception of smoking. "They studied her. They studied and marketed to her,” Rosen said. “She was their market.”
Email Arlin Crisco at [email protected].
Plaintiffs are represented by Kelley/Uustal’s Eric Rosen, Kimberly Wald, and Josiah Graham.
The defense is represented by Arnold & Porter's Keri Arnold and Shook Hardy & Bacon’s Frank Cruz-Alvarez.
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