Tampa, FL—Philip Morris was cleared of responsibility Tuesday for the lung cancer death of a Florida railway worker who smoked the company’s cigarettes for years. Pearson v. Philip Morris, 2007-CA-017823.
The Florida 13th Circuit Court jury, in Hillsborough County, deliberated for about 90 minutes before concluding nicotine addiction was not the legal cause of Don Pearson's death. The finding excludes Pearson's family from a class of plaintiffs potentially entitled to damages for a tobacco industry scheme to hide the dangers of cigarettes.
Pearson, 51, a railroad worker for much of his life, died from lung cancer in 1995 after more than three decades of smoking cigarettes, including Philip Morris’ Marlboro brand.
During Tuesday’s closing arguments, the Gunn Law Group’s Lee Gunn IV, representing Pearson’s family, requested up to $21 million in total compensatory damages, plus a finding punitive damages were warranted.
The Pearson case is one of thousands of Florida’s so-called 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, and which had returned a jury verdict for the plaintiffs’ class. 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 for decades.
In order to prevail and be entitled to those findings, however, each plaintiff must prove class membership by showing the smoker at the heart of the case suffered from nicotine addiction that caused a smoking-related disease such as lung cancer.
The 10-day trial focused both on whether Pearson, who began smoking as a teenager, was addicted to cigarettes and whether that addiction led to his cancer. During Tuesday’s closings, Gunn reminded jurors of testimony concluding Pearson was addicted to nicotine. The attorney also recounted evidence that Pearson smoked up to three packs of cigarettes a day for more than 32 years, failed in numerous quit attempts, and smoked despite his daughter’s breathing problems. “He loved his family," Gunn said. "Yet the power of addiction was so strong that he would still smoke, sometimes too often, too close to his daughter.”
However, the defense contended Pearson smoked for enjoyment, despite knowing the risks of cigarettes, and did not seriously try to quit smoking in time to prevent his cancer. During Tuesday’s closings, Shook Hardy’s Kenneth Reilly reminded jurors of testimony that Pearson, who successfully quit smoking in 1993, would have needed to quit by 1979 to prevent his cancer. “Did Mr. Pearson give any indication he had any desire to quit smoking by 1979? Any, any at all. You know the answer. The answer is no,” Reilly said. "[The year 19] 79 happens to be the same year that Mrs. Pearson asked him, suggested to him, that he quit with the birth of [their daughter]. Didn’t happen. He had no interest in quitting.”
Email Arlin Crisco at [email protected].
The plaintiffs are represented by the Gunn Law Group’s Lee Gunn IV.
The defense is represented by Shook Hardy Bacon’s Kenneth Reilly.
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