Miami, FL— Philip Morris was slapped with a $1.35 million total verdict this week for the role jurors found the company played in a Florida smoker’s throat cancer. Alvarez Del Real v. Philip Morris, 2007-CA-032909.
That total includes $1.2 million in compensatory damages awarded Monday, plus $150,000 in punitives awarded Tuesday for the 1996 laryngeal cancer that cost Jorge Alvarez Del Real his larynx.
Alvarez Del Real was born in Cuba and immigrated to the United States in 1980. He claims years of smoking Philip Morris’ Marlboros, combined with the company’s participation in a scheme to hide the dangers of cigarettes, hooked him to nicotine and caused his cancer.
The 11th Circuit Court jury, in Dade County, concluded Alvarez Del Real’s cancer was caused by Philip Morris cigarettes, but it cleared the company of fraud and conspiracy claims and found Alvarez Del Real himself 70% responsible for the disease.
The case is among thousands that stem from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a 1994 Florida state court class-action lawsuit against Philip Morris and other tobacco companies. The state's supreme court ultimately decertified the class, but ruled that so-called 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 conspired to hide the dangers of smoking.
However, in order to be entitled to those findings, plaintiffs must prove the smokers at the heart of their cases suffered from nicotine addiction that caused a smoking-related illness.
The six-day trial turned in part on Alvarez Del Real’s smoking history and the role the Philip Morris’ Marlboros played in his cancer. During closings of the trial’s first phase, on class membership, last Friday, Venable’s Jessica Grant, representing Philip Morris, challenged plaintiff’s credibility by detailing Alvarez Del Real’s changing story about his smoking. She noted Alvarez Del Real first said he began smoking in Cuba in the 1960s, before claiming he began smoking in 1989, then ultimately maintaining he began smoking in 1980, shortly after arriving in the U.S.
Grant argued Alvarez Del Real’s story changed to bolster trial strategy, and noted medical evidence that suggested a seven-year smoking history was insufficient to cause laryngeal cancer. “So obviously [Alvarez Del Real’s] lawyers figured that out,” Grant said. “This motivation to make that change [in smoking history], the lawyers did to increase their chances of winning this lawsuit.”
But Alvarez Del Real’s attorneys contended the story changed because of Alvarez Del Real’s confusion on the issue. During Friday’s closings, Parafinczuk Wolf Susen’s Austin Carr noted medical testimony concluding that 98% of laryngeal cancer is caused by smoking. And he told jurors that, even if they believed Alvarez Del Real’s original story — that he began smoking Cuban cigarettes as a teenager in the 1960s — his smoking history with Marlboros still led to the loss of his voice box. “Sixteen years of smoking here in the United States, of smoking only Marlboro cigarettes, at a minimum pack-a-day, two packs a day,” Carr said, “was a substantial contributing cause to his laryngeal cancer.”
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jorge Alvarez Del Real is represented by The Menendez Law Firm’s Jose Menendez and Parafinczuk Wolf Susen’s Austin Carr.
Philip Morris is represented by Venable’s Jessica Grant and Shook Hardy’s Terry Sexton.
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