Breaking News: Philip Morris Prevails in $21.9M Engle Progeny, Laryngeal Cancer Suit
Miami—Jurors Friday afternoon found Philip Morris-brand cigarettes did not cause the cancer that cost Jose Vila his larynx, clearing the tobacco giant in Vila’s $21.9 million Engle progeny tobacco lawsuit.
The jury took less than seven hours before finding that, while Vila suffered from nicotine addiction that caused his laryngeal cancer, Philip Morris-brand cigarettes were not the legal cause of the disease.
Vila had sought up to $21.9 million in past compensatory damages alone, with his attorney, the Ferraro Law Firm's Allan Kaiser, presenting a range of damages to jurors during closing arguments.
Vila sued Philip Morris, claiming its Marlboro-brand cigarettes caused his nicotine addiction and laryngeal cancer. Vila 60, began smoking at 15 while living in Spain, and continued the habit for more than 24 years, quitting sometime after his cancer diagnosis in 1994. Vila's larynx was removed two years later to treat a recurrence of the cancer.
The length of time Vila smoked Philip Morris’ cigarettes, and Vila’s own credibility, was a key issue at trial. Shook Hardy Bacon’s Robert McCarter, representing Philip Morris, told jurors Vila had not smoked his client’s cigarettes long enough for them to cause Vila’s cancer. McCarter reminded jurors in closing arguments that circumstantial evidence weighed against Vila’s claim that he began smoking Marlboro cigarettes as a teenager in Spain. What you learned when we cross-examined Dr. Proctor is Marlboro cigarettes were five times more expensive in Spain than other cigarettes because they were imported and the sale was by the Spanish monopoly,” McCarter said. “So Mr. Vila is claiming that, as a teenager without any money, to be smoking the most expensive cigarette, or one of the most expensive cigarettes in Spain.”
Instead, McCarter said the evidence established that Vila smoked Philip Morris-manufactured Marlboros for only three-and-half years, while living in the U.S., which wasn't long enough to cause Vila's cancer. “Where is the evidence that three-and-a-half years of smoking is enough to cause laryngeal cancer?" McCarter asked. "Where is the evidence? They have the burden of proof? Who testified to that? Nobody.”
However, Kaiser argued that the Marlboros Vila smoked for more than a decade while living in the Dominican Republic were produced by a Philip Morris-owned company. "(The Marlboro cigarettes in the Dominican Republic) are Philip Morris cigarettes, and they're the same Marlboro cigarettes that are manufactured here in the United States and smoked here in the United States," Kaiser said. "And, if for a minute... Philip Morris USA, Inc.had evidence that there really weren't cigarettes that they were making being sold in the Dominican Republic, they would've brought a representative from their company to say 'No. Those Philip Morris Marlboro cigarettes weren't ours,' and they didn't do it."
McCarter countered that the Marlboro cigarettes Vila bought in the Dominican Republic were manufactured by a third-party licensee in which Philip Morris held an interest. McCarter told jurors that connection was insufficient to hold Philip Morris liable. "This question (on the verdict form) doesn't ask whether cigarettes made by a company that Philip Morris had a stake in caused (Vila's) cancer," McCarter said. "The question is, did cigarettes manufactured by Philip Morris cause (Vila's) cancer. Philip Morris did not manufacture those cigarettes.Their own expert (tobacco industry expert Robert Proctor) admitted it."
Neither the parties’ attorneys nor Philip Morris representatives could be immediately reached for comment.
The verdict, which jurors took more than six hours to reach, gives tobacco manufacturers the win in the first state court Engle progeny case to come to trial in 2015. On Wednesday, however, a federal jury in Jacksonville hit Philip Morris with a $17.2 million verdict in an Engle progeny suit brought by a woman who claimed that smoking the company’s cigarettes led to vascular disease and the amputation of her legs. Donna Brown v. Philip Morris USA et al,3:09-CV-10687-WGY-HTS.
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