Tobacco Makers Hit with $3M Punitive Verdict in Widow's Wrongful Death Suit

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Mar 25, 2015 11:56:00 AM

Rose Pollari's attorney, Alex Alvarez, asks jurors for $30 million in total punitive damages against Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds. Jurors ultimately awarded $3 million total punitives against the tobacco companies in Pollari's suit for the lung cancer death of her husband, Paul. Click here to watch on-demand gavel-to-gavel video of the trial. 

Fort Lauderdale, FL--Jurors today awarded $3 million in punitive damages to a widow who claimed her husband died of lung cancer in 1994 after decades of smoking cigarettes made by Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds. Pollari v. R.J. Reynolds, et al.

Watch Video from Tobacco Trials The punitive award came on the heels of Monday’s $10 million compensatory award to Rose Pollari, who sued the two tobacco manufacturers, claiming that her husband Paul Pollari’s nicotine addiction and eventual lung cancer were caused by the tobacco industry’s concealment of smoking’s health hazards and marketing to children for most of the 20th century.

However, during the trial’s one-day punitive damages phase, the defendants argued that they no longer engaged in the tactics that have exposed them to billions of dollars in liability in thousands of trials similar to Pollari’s.

In closing arguments of the punitive phase, Shook Hardy’s Kenneth Reilly, representing Philip Morris, reminded jurors of testimony concerning federal restrictions imposed on tobacco companies since the 1990s and argued that wholesale changes in corporate leadership mitigated against awarding punitive damages. "What message do you send to the people at Philip Morris who are moving in this direction?" Reilly asked. "If there are other people or companies, or organizations that view themselves as being out of alignment, by your message do you encourage them to take this new path? Or do you encourage them to continue where they are because it's not going to do them a bit of good, they're just going to get smacked?"

However, The Alvarez Law Firm’s Alex Alvarez, representing Rose Pollari, told jurors that the defendants needed to be punished for the conduct he says led to Paul Pollari's nicotine addiction. Alvarez also argued that increased federal regulations on the tobacco industry have not prevented cigarettes from continuing to reach underage smokers today. “These FDA regulations have not prevented them from selling one cigarette,” Alvarez said. “Forty-two hundred children start smoking, or try their first cigarette, every day. It’s not by accident.”

The $3 million award, imposed equally between Philip Morris and Reynolds, is 1/10 of the $30 million in total punitives Alvarez requested in closing arguments, telling jurors “unless they feel like they were punished, then punitive damages did nothing.”

The jury took less than two hours to reach its punitive verdict, which concludes a two-week trial that focused in part on whether Pollari’s cancer originated in his lungs.

The case is one of thousands of similar Engle progeny lawsuits filed against tobacco companies in Florida. The cases all stem from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision decertifying Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a class-action tobacco case originally filed in 1994. Although that court ruled Engle cases must be tried individually, it found plaintiffs could rely on certain jury findings in the original verdict, including the determination that tobacco companies had placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and had conspired to hide the dangers of smoking. To rely on those findings, individual Engle progeny plaintiffs such as Pollari must prove the smoker’s addiction to cigarettes and a causal link between the addiction and a smoking-related disease.

Attorneys were not immediately available for comment. 

Related information

Attorneys in the case include Kelley Uustal's Todd McPharlin and Eric Rosen, and The Alvarez Law Firm's Alex Alvarez, representing Rose Pollari.  Shook Hardy's Kenneth Reilly represents Phillip Morris USA and King & Spalding's Ursula Henninger represents R.J. Reynolds. 

Read $10M Verdict, Plus Punitives to Come Strikes Tobacco Giants in Wrongful Death Suit.

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Topics: tobacco, Engle Progeny, Florida, Pollari v. R.J. Reynolds,