Pensacola, FL—Jurors Friday awarded $250,000 in non-economic damages to the family of a Florida mortician whose 1995 lung cancer death was previously tied to years of smoking Philip Morris cigarettes. Danielson v. Philip Morris, 2007-CA002737.
The jury’s award includes $100,000 for Norman Lamar Danielson’s widow, Micah Danielson, and $50,000 to each of his three children.
The Danielson family’s attorney, Levin Papantonio’s Virginia Buchanan, suggested a $1.2 million for each of the four family members, for a $4.8 million total non-economic award, during Friday's closing arguments.
Danielson, who operated a North Florida funeral home, was 42 when he died of lung cancer after more than 20 years of smoking Philip Morris’ Marlboro cigarettes. The family sued the tobacco giant, claiming its participation in a scheme to hide the dangers of smoking through much of the 20th century hooked Danielson to nicotine and ultimately caused his fatal cancer.
Philip Morris was found responsible for Danielson’s death in a 2015 trial covered by CVN, but jurors awarded only $25,000 in economic compensation, disregarding instructions to award $2.3 million stipulated by parties for that portion of the damage claim. And, while that jury imposed a $325,000 punitive verdict against the tobacco company, they denied Micah Danielson any recovery for non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, and awarded Danielson’s three children $100,000 each on their non-economic claims.
Subsequent to that 2015 verdict, the trial court adjusted the economic damage award to $2.3 million and ordered a new trial on non-economics compensation and punitives. The state’s First District Court of Appeal reversed the order for a new trial on punitives but upheld the trial court's finding that the non-economic award may have been swayed by improper bias against the Danielson family.
That decision set up last week’s retrial.
The two-day proceeding on non-economic compensation focused on the impact Danielson’s cancer and death had on his family, with testimony from Danielson's wife and children.
During Friday’s closings, Buchanan painted Danielson as the center of a tight-knit family, and she outlined the emotional struggles his cancer and death wrought on his wife and children. “All fathers are not created equal. All husbands are not created equal,” Buchanan said. “This father, this husband, was exceptional.”
Philip Morris’ attorney, Shook Hardy’s Kenneth Reilly, acknowledged the close-knit nature of the family and the lingering effects of Danielson’s loss. But he reminded jurors of the decades that had passed since Danielson’s death, and he contended the amount suggested by Buchanan was excessive. “An enormous sum of money is not going to make them miss him any less,” Reilly told jurors Friday, suggesting $50,000 in non-economic damages for each family member. “You guys get to ask yourselves,’What is a fair and just amount for this single category of damage?’”
The case is one of thousands of Florida’s Engle progeny lawsuits against the nation’s tobacco companies. They stem from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision decertifying Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a class-action tobacco suit originally filed in 1994. Although the state’s supreme court ruled that Engle progeny cases must be tried individually, it found plaintiffs could rely on certain jury findings in the original case, including the determination that tobacco companies had placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and had conspired to hide the dangers of smoking through much of the 20th century.
In order to be entitled to those findings, however, each Engle progeny plaintiff must prove the smoker at the heart of their case suffered from nicotine addiction that legally caused a specific smoking-related disease.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Plaintiffs are represented by Levin Papantonio’s Virginia Buchanan and Rachael Gilmer.
Philip Morris is represented by Shook Hardy’s Kenneth Reilly.
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