Article includes commentary from Lieff Cabraser Nashville partner Kenny Byrd, who represented the plaintiff
The AAJ reports that the Eleventh Circuit has found in favor of the plaintiff in an Engle progeny tobacco injury lawsuit against cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris, holding that a punitive damages award of over $20 million was constitutionally appropriate and not unconstitutionally excessive, as the defendants had repeatedly argued after losing the original injury trial in 2013.
Philip Morris appealed the $20 million punitive damages award, arguing that it violated the due process clause by “imposing a grossly excessive punishment on a tortfeasor” and that the award would not deter future wrongdoing. The Court disagreed, finding ample support under the three “guideposts” the U.S. Supreme Court has set forth for evaluating punitive damages awards: the reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct, the ratio of compensatory and punitive damages, and how the punitive damages compare to civil penalties awarded in comparable cases.
Lieff Cabraser partner Kenny Byrd, who represented Ms. Berger, told the AAJ that “sadly, she died while the case was on appeal. But the result is a testament to the pain and suffering and loss that she long endured and also to the courage and grit she showed in bringing her case to trial. Mrs. Berger began smoking at about 13 or 14. The jury awarded $20,760,000.14 in punitive damages. The 14 cents is a powerful reminder to all of us about how young the victims of cigarette addiction are when they begin smoking. Roughly 90% of those who become daily smokers begin smoking before 18. The tobacco industry knew this and exploited it to make life-long customers. In trying to blame Mrs. Berger during the trial, they effectively were blaming a young teenage girl. The jury, thankfully, understood that. New industries now seek to addict our children to nicotine and other substances through the same scheme with new mechanisms.”
Byrd concluded, “We must fight them as well — and fight them, we will.”
About Kenny Byrd
A partner in our Nashville office, Kenny Byrd represents clients in mass tort cases, defective product cases and consumer fraud litigation. He is a leader in groundbreaking national litigation filed on behalf of Tennessee governments and taxpayers, among many others, against opioid manufacturers and distributors in the wake of the ongoing national opioids crisis. Kenny also serves on the Early Vetting Committee in the nationwide product defect lawsuit against 3M relating to allegations that for over a decade, 3M provided defective earplugs to men and women in the U.S. military.
In 2013 and 2014, Kenny was the lead trial attorney in obtaining several substantial jury verdicts for smokers and their families, including a $27 million jury verdict and a $41 million jury verdict. These verdicts were ranked by The National Law Journal among the Top 100 Verdicts of 2014 and paved the way to a $100 million global settlement with Big Tobacco in 2015 on behalf of hundreds of gravely injured smokers in Florida, the first smoker cases group settlement by the cigarette companies in history.