Miami, FL— A Florida state court judge Wednesday declared a mistrial in a case against Philip Morris after jurors were unable to reach a verdict on whether the company was responsible for a Florida man’s respiratory disease and death. Garcia v. Philip Morris, 2007-CA-045267.
Judge Reemberto Diaz, of Florida’s 11th Circuit, in Dade County, declared an end to the trial after jurors had deliberated more than nine hours without reaching a verdict over the 2008 death of Juan Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, who had immigrated to the United States from Cuba in the 1960s, smoked Philip Morris’s Marlboro brand cigarettes for years before quitting in the 1980s. He developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, and, in 2007, was diagnosed with lung cancer. His family contends the diseases were the result of Philip Morris’s concealment of smoking’s dangers.
During Tuesday’s closing arguments, the Rodriguez family’s attorney, Parafinczuk Wolf Susen’s Austin Carr, suggested a compensatory awarded between $6 and $11 million, plus a finding that punitives were potentially warranted.
The case is one of thousands that stem from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a 1994 Florida state court class-action lawsuit against Reynolds and the nation's other tobacco companies, in which jurors found for the plaintiffs. The state's supreme court later decertified the class, but ruled Engle progeny cases may be tried individually. Plaintiffs are entitled to the benefit of the jury's findings in the original verdict, including the determination that tobacco companies placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and hid the dangers of smoking.
To be entitled to those findings, however, each plaintiff must prove the smoker at the heart of their case suffered from nicotine addiction that was the legal cause of a smoking-related disease that manifested between May 1990 and November 1996. And the eight-day trial focused in large part on whether Rodriguez’s knew or should have known that he had the disease before that time.
During Tuesday’s closings, Carr argued there were no medical records definitively diagnosing Rodriguez with respiratory disease before May 1990. And he contended Rodriguez, who had an elementary school education, and did not speak English, or watch television news, had no reason to believe he suffered from smoking-related respiratory disease before that date. “How’s a man like that supposed to know about the disease emphysema? It’s not on the pack that he’s smoking,” Carr said. “It’s just not there.”
But Philip Morris contends Rodriguez should have known he had respiratory disease long before the Engle class membership window. During Tuesday’s closings, Kim Vaughan Lerner’s Robert Vaughan highlighted medical testimony concluding Rodriguez likely had respiratory disease by 1988, based on the severity of the disease as it was measured a decade later.
And he reminded jurors of medical records made in the 2000s where Rodriguez said he suffered from respiratory disease-related symptoms for 20-plus years. “That’s from Mr. Rodriguez,” Vaughan said. “It doesn’t matter how you spin it. It doesn’t matter how you try and color it. That’s from the gentleman himself.”
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
Editor's note: Austin Carr's law firm was incorrectly named in an earlier version of this article. It has been corrected.
Odaima Garcia is represented by Parafinczuk Wolf Susen’s Austin Carr and Jose Menendez of Menendez Trial Attorneys.
Philip Morris is represented by Kim Vaughan Lerner’s Robert Vaughan.