Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog
FL Smoker Receives $27M Judgment in Berger Tobacco Suit

Florida Smoker Finally Wins $27 Million Judgment Against Philip Morris

In 2014, Lieff Cabraser won a trial verdict against Philip Morris on behalf of injured smoker Judith Berger, who started using cigarettes at age 14. The jury awarded compensation in the amount of $6.25 million, then added an additional $20,760,000.14 in punitive damages against the cigarette maker. Thereafter, the trial judge substantially undercut the claims at the defendants’ urging, reducing the compensatory award to $3.75 million and eliminating the punitive damages award. Philip Morris further appealed the reduced damages award, claiming falsely that plaintiffs’ counsel had characterized the tobacco industry as “pedophiles” to the jury.

On January 17, 2019, U.S. District Judge James G. Carr entered the full $27 million judgment against Philip Morris USA Inc. on behalf of now-deceased smoker, Judith Berger, finally ending a four-year attempt by the tobacco company to overturn the original 2014 award of $20 million in punitive damages.

Lieff Cabraser partner, Kenneth Byrd, who represents Berger’s estate, said he only wished Mrs. Berger had been able to be there to see that she had held the tobacco companies accountable. “The jury’s verdict and the 14 cents they made sure to add as a marker of the age at which Mrs. Berger began the smoking that would lead to her death is a stark reminder that these companies rely on children to keep their business going,” Byrd said. “About 90 percent of regular daily smokers began smoking when they were children — like Judith Berger.”

 As noted by Lieff Cabraser founding partner Elizabeth Cabraser, “The 14 cents racked on to the jury’s punitive damages award may be the most powerful fourteen cents ever billed. This is certainly one of the most pointed, and poignant, messages sent by a jury in my memory. That the Eleventh Circuit restored it, thereby delivering it with redoubled force, is especially gratifying, since the common fate of punitive damages awards is not revival, but reduction or reversal. Great legal opinions span many pages, and the Berger decision is gratifyingly thorough. The decision’s glory is that it let the jury speak: and the jury said it all in 14 cents.”

Lieff Cabraser’s Work on Behalf of Injured Smokers and Their Families

Lieff Cabraser represents Florida smokers, and the spouses and families of loved ones who died, in litigation against the tobacco companies for their 50-year conspiracy to conceal the hazards of smoking and the addictive nature of cigarettes. In 2015, a settlement was reached on behalf of more than 400 Florida smoker lawsuits against the major cigarette companies Philip Morris USA Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and Lorillard Tobacco Company. As a part of the settlement, the companies will collectively pay $100 million to injured smokers or their families. Lieff Cabraser attorneys also tried over 20 cases in Florida federal court against the tobacco industry on behalf of individual smokers or their estates, and with co-counsel obtained over $105 million in judgments for our clients.