Fort Lauderdale, FL—Jurors found R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris liable in the lung cancer death of a New York native, slapping the tobacco giants with nearly $5.5 million in compensatory damages and finding punitives potentially warranted for conspiring to hide the dangers of their cigarettes for decades. Martin v. Philip Morris, et al., 2007-CV-036440.
The six-woman jury awarded Stanley Martin, 81, $5.3 million for the loss of his wife, Carole, in 2004, after a battle with coronary heart disease and eventually lung cancer brought on by 55 years of smoking 2 packs of cigarettes a day beginning when she was 12 years old. Martin was also awarded more than $111,000 in medical expenses.
Jurors also found punitive damages could be imposed against Philip Morris and Reynolds, makers of the cigarettes his wife smoked. Jurors apportioned 46% responsibility to Philip Morris, 22% of responsibility to Reynolds, and found Carole Martin 32% liable.
Stanley Martin claims a five-decade-long conspiracy by tobacco companies, including Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, to hide the dangers and addictiveness of smoking hooked his wife on cigarettes as a youngster and ultimately led to her coronary heart disease and cancer.
"Exposing someone to an addictive substance at a young age when the brain is still in development causes more structural changes to the brain," said Martin's attorney Todd McPharlin of Kelley Uustal, during his closing argument to jurors. "They're changing people's brains. That’s not my take on it. That’s the evidence. That’s the undisputed evidence as to what their product does to people who consume it every day."
But the defense contended Carole Martin smoked for enjoyment rather than because of addiction and had no real desire to quit in time to avoid her smoking-related illnesses. Philip Morris attorney William Geraghty, of Shook Hardy, argued Mrs. Martin was strong and independent and made her own decisions regarding her smoking. "Who was in control of Carole Martin's lifestyle choices? In other words, who was in control of her decision to smoke cigarettes? Who was in control of her efforts to quit smoking? Who controlled her motivation to quit?" Geraghty said in his closing. "Who controlled whether Carole Martin was motivated, ever truly motivated to quit and made a commited effort to quit before she was diagnosed with coronary artery disease in 1995? Did her claimed addiction rob her of her free will? Or was Carole Martin someone who did something that she wanted to do?"
The Martin case is one of thousands of similar lawsuits against the nation's tobacco companies, spurred from a 1994 Florida class action suit. Jurors in the original class action found for the plaintifs and concluded the companies knowingly produced dangerous, addictive cigarettes and hid those dangers from the public. The Florida Supreme Court decertified the class, but allowed the jury's findings to stand. Individual "Engle-progeny" plaintiffs must prove the smokers at the centers of their cases suffered from nicotine addiction that caused a smoking-related disease in order to be entitled to the original jury's findings on liability.
Notably, Engle progeny plaintiffs must also be residents of Florida on or before November 21, 1996 in order to qualify. The defense unsuccessfully argued the Martins, who hailed from New York before moving to Florida and spending winters in the state after Stanley Martin retired in 1993, were so-called "snowbirds" —retirees who wintered in Florida before returning north—and not "residents" of the Sunshine State by the requisite date.
Proceedings on punitive damages, which began after the verdict on copensatories, resume Thursday.
Eric Rosen and Todd McPharlin, of Kelley Uustal, represent Stanley Martin.
William Geraghty, of Shook Hardy, represents Philip Morris.
Ursula Henninger, of King & Spalding, represents R.J. Reynolds.
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