Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog
Federal Judge Orders Phillip Morris to Pay Delayed $20M Tobacco Verdict

Federal Judge Orders Philip Morris to Pay Delayed $20M Tobacco Verdict

On September 13, 2019, U.S. District Judge James G. Carr ordered tobacco giant Philip Morris USA Inc., to finally pay up on a $20 million verdict won against it by now-deceased former smoker, Judith Berger, saying that the company’s arguments for a new trial “served no other purpose than to delay payment of the judgment” it had been ordered to pay.

In 2014, Lieff Cabraser won a trial verdict against Philip Morris on behalf of 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. The last fourteen cents of the verdict were intended as a deliberate admonition to Philip Morris reflecting to the young age at which Mrs. Berger began the smoking that would lead to her death, an unmistakable and stark reminder of the fact that Philip Morris and companies like it relied on addicting children through disinformation and improper ad enticements to keep their deadly business thriving.

After the 2014 verdict, 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, hoping the parties would settle. Instead, Philip Morris appealed the reduced judgment and plaintiffs’ cross-appealed the vacatur of the fraud.  In 2018, a ruling was granted in the plaintiffs’ favor but rather than pay up, Philip Morris challenged the punitive damage awards as excessive.

As reported by Law360, in his recently issued 29-page order, U.S. District Judge James G. Carr of the middle district of Florida (by designation) chastised Philip Morris for its “rear-guard” motions for a new trial, denying the company’s arguments that the punitive damage award was excessive.

“Simply put: it is time for Philip Morris to pay the judgment,” Judge Carr wrote. “And [it] is time for its lawyers to tell it to do so.”

Law360 notes that Judge Carr also rejected Philip Morris’ argument that the punitive damages were not necessary because of new restrictions on cigarette companies intended to prevent similar behavior in the future, saying no previously existing law had successfully stopped Philip Morris’ past bad behavior.

“Fraudulent concealment has long been unlawful, but that did not stop Philip Morris from deceiving Congress, regulators and the public about the addictive and hazardous characteristics of cigarettes,” wrote Judge Carr. “Philip Morris offers no convincing reason why new legal restraints are guaranteed to prevent further intentional misconduct.”

Read Judge Carr’s full order.

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.