Fort Lauderdale, FL—A rare Saturday of deliberations and juror confusion about a verdict form ended with an $8 million compensatory verdict, plus possible punitives, against the nation’s two biggest cigarette makers for the cancer death of a Florida woman. Landi v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, et al., 2008-CV-025814.
Jurors in Florida’s 17th Judicial Circuit, in Broward County, found R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris responsible for the 1999 lung cancer death of Marion Landi, 69. The $8 million award was reached following closing arguments Friday afternoon and after deliberations stretched into the weekend.
Trial on punitives is scheduled to begin Thursday.
Landi, who was a regular smoker by her early 20s, smoked 1-2 packs of cigarettes a day for decades. Her husband, Herbert, contends a scheme by the tobacco companies to hide the dangers of smoking for much of the 20th century hooked his wife to cigarettes and led to her cancer.
In reaching their verdict Saturday, jurors improperly completed the verdict form awarding damages both to Herbert Landi on his wrongful death claim and for Marion Landi’s pain and suffering under a survival claim. Under Florida law, the two claims are mutually exclusive.
After Circuit Court Judge Michael Robinson denied a defense motion for mistrial, the parties agreed to disregard the jury’s award on the survival claim and proceed with the $8 million wrongful death award as the jury’s verdict.
The 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. 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.
To be entitled to damages, however, each plaintiff must, at a minimum, prove addiction that led to a smoking-related disease, such as lung cancer.
The trial’s 11-day first phase turned on a range of issues surrounding what caused Landi’s cancer.
During Friday’s closing arguments, Boies Schiller’s Andrew Brenner argued Landi‘s own smoking decisions, rather than addiction, led to her cancer. Brenner said Landi’s husband and son testified she knew smoking was dangerous, but did not try to quit until about 1994. “We know that Mrs. Landi never tried to quit [in time to avoid her cancer],” Brenner said. “And when she did try, addicted or not, it did not prevent her from doing so.”
King & Spalding’s Kathryn Lehman, representing Reynolds, highlighted what she said was scant proof linking Landi’s cancer to her smoking. On Friday, Lehman told jurors initial medical impressions speculated that the cancer began in her kidneys and that there was no solid medical evidence to prove the disease began in her lungs. Plaintiff’s treating physician “didn’t bring you any medical record that said that her lung cancer was caused by smoking. There was no pathology report, there was no CT scan, there was no radiology, there was no office note. There’s no medical record at all,” Lehman said. “There’s not one medical record that says that Mrs. Landi’s cancer was caused by smoking.”
However, Herbert Landi’s attorney, Scott Schlesinger, of Schlesinger Law Offices P.A., countered that the treating physician biopsied the tumor in the kidney and concluded Landi suffered from the same large cell carcinoma found in her lung, and a common smoking-related lung cancer. “The treating physician said she had metastatic cancer all throughout her body,” Schlesinger said.
Schlesinger added that evidence established Landi was not only hooked on cigarettes but duped by a conspiracy meant to falsely reassure smokers who heard information about smoking’s dangers. “Marion Landi was the perfect customer. She fit their marketing scheme to a T. You’ve started worrying about the danger of cigarettes? Here’s a filter. You’ve started worrying about the danger of cigarettes again? Here are light cigarettes,” Schlesinger said. “They knew all along. It was an effective marketing gimmick.”
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Herbert Landi is represented by Scott Schlesinger, Jonathan Gdanski, Steven Hammer, and Brittany Chambers, of Schlesinger Law Offices, P.A.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by Randall Bassett, Kathryn Lehman, Val Leppert, and Lindsay Macon, of King & Spalding.
Philip Morris is represented by Andrew Brenner, of Boies, Schiller & Flexner.
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