Jacksonville, FL— Jurors last week handed down an $850,000 verdict for the laryngeal cancer death of a long-time Florida smoker, but apportioned only 20% of responsibility to defendant Philip Morris, likely reducing the post-verdict award. Tuttle v. Philip Morris, 2008-CA-000402.
Jurors in Florida’s 4th Judicial Circuit reached their verdict Wednesday over the 1997 death of John Tuttle, then 48, from laryngeal cancer. However, jurors apportioned 45% of responsibility to Tuttle himself and 35% to R.J. Reynolds, which was not a party at trial. That, combined with the jury’s rejection of the Tuttle family’s fraud and punitive damages claims, means the post-verdict award against Philip Morris, the only defendant at trial, will likely be reduced to $170,000.
John Tuttle began smoking as a teenager and continued for about 30 years. From roughly 1978 until he quit smoking in 1992, he smoked Philip Morris’ Marlboro cigarettes. The Tuttle family contends Philip Morris’ participation in a decades-long conspiracy to hide the dangers and addictiveness of cigarettes ultimately caused Tuttle’s fatal cancer.
The lawsuit is one of thousands of so-called Engle-progeny cases, claims spun from a 1990s class action by Florida smokers against the nation’s tobacco companies. After a trial court verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, the Florida Supreme Court decertified the class, ruling individual plaintiffs could recover only if they proved the smoker at the heart of each case was addicted to cigarettes that caused a disease such as lung cancer.
How much, if any, responsibility Philip Morris bore for Tuttle’s death was a key issue in the 12-day trial. During his closing, the Tuttle family’s attorney, Avera & Smith’s Rod Smith, reminded jurors of evidence he said showed Philip Morris intentionally worked to hide the dangers of smoking for much of the latter half of the 20th century. By contrast, Smith argued, Tuttle’s own smoking decisions were driven by tobacco industry concealment of smoking’s risks and his nicotine addiction.
“Think of the dimension of difference,” Smith said. “They put out a product… so defective that it killed 15 million Americans during [Tuttle’s] lifetime.”
But Philip Morris’ attorney Kathleen Gallagher, of Rodman & Rodman LLC, countered that evidence showed Tuttle had been smoking for years, and had become addicted to nicotine, long before he started smoking Philip Morris cigarettes. And she argued that Tuttle did not do enough to quit smoking in time to avoid his cancer.
“He made the decision not to try to quit until 1992,” Gallagher said. “It is 100 percent the smoker’s decision, and therefore you should put 100 percent of the responsibility on Mr. Tuttle.”
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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