As reported by Law360 (subscription), the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a $20.7 million verdict against the tobacco giant Philip Morris in favor of a now-deceased former smoker, Judith Berger. The panel found that the $20.7 million award was within constitutional limits and not excessive, given various facts presented in the case, including that Phillip Morris perpetrated a 50-year conspiracy to conceal the hazards of smoking and the addictive nature of cigarettes while seeking to addict as many Americans, particularly young Americans, as possible.
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 the age at which Mrs. Berger began the smoking addiction that would lead to her death, an unmistakable and stark reminder of the fact that Philip Morris and companies like it relied on ensnaring children through disinformation and improper ad barrages intended 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, as usual Philip Morris challenged the punitive damage awards as excessive.
“Today the court of appeals affirmed that the amount of punitive damages the jury awarded was not excessive. The Berger jury’s $20 million punitive damage verdict remains among the largest in an Engle case, but the Court held that the amount did not violate due process,” Lieff Cabraser partner Robert J. Nelson said in a statement. “Sadly, Mrs. Berger died while the case was on appeal, but the result today is not only a testament to the pain and suffering and loss that she long endured, but also to the courage and grit she showed in bringing her case to trial.”
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.
On February 25th, 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 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. Two of the jury verdicts Lieff Cabraser attorneys obtained in the litigation were ranked by The National Law Journal among the Top 100 Verdicts of 2014.