Tobacco Companies Ordered To Pay $35M In Latest Engle Progeny Wrongful Death Lawsuit
A Miami jury has ordered R. J. Reynolds and Philip Morris to pay a widower $35 million, as a result of the death of his wife due to lung cancer linked to a lifelong habit of smoking the companies’ cigarettes.
The verdict is the latest in a series of Florida smokers’ lawsuits to result in multi-million dollar damage awards, following a prior class action verdict that established liability in the cases, leaving juries to determine the amount of injuries individuals and families are entitled to receive as a result of their smoking addiction.
Each of the tobacco manufacturers was ordered to pay $10 million in compensatory damages to Roland Ledoux as a result of the death of his wife, Patricia. In addition to $12.5 million in punitive damages designed to punish the companies for misleading his wife and millions of others about the safety of tobacco cigarettes.
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Known as “Engle progeny” cases, the lawsuit was the latest to go before a jury stemming from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision that vacated a $145 billion class action judgment in a case brought on behalf of an estimated 700,000 smokers in that state. While the damage award was overturned on appeal, class members have been able to initiate individual lawsuits and use the liability findings from the original trial. As a result, plaintiffs do not have to establish liability, but only that the injuries were caused by a smoking addiction.
Patricia Ledoux was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1996, and died later that year. She began smoking at the age of 14 and smoked two packs per day on average for 41 years until her death from lung cancer at the age of 55. She reportedly tried numerous attempts at quitting and failed. Her husband claimed that the companies deceived her and others both in the dangers to their health and in the strength of tobacco addiction.
The jury determined that R. J. Reynolds and Philip Morris were each 47% responsible for Ledoux’s death, with Ledoux herself bearing the remaining six percent of the responsibility.
Massive Jury Awards for Florida Smokers
The tobacco companies face substantial liability by continuing to take individual cases to trial, where internal company reports, memos and other correspondence are presented to juries, highlighting the steps executives took to hide the cancerous effects of cigarettes while they continued to market cigarettes in a way that caused children to become addicted as early in life as possible.
With only about two percent of the Engle progeny cases having gone before a jury, tobacco manufacturers had already been hit with hundreds of million worth of damage awards.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently rejected a request by tobacco manufacturers to hear an appeal, which challenged the constitutionality of the Engle trial structure. As a result, individual cases are expected to continue to trial in the coming months and years if settlements are not reached in the cases.
Some companies have attempted to resolve some of the cases. In February, R. J. Reynolds, Philip Morris USA, and Lorillard agreed to pay a total of $100 million to settle 400 of the pending claims. In 2013, Liggett agreed to pay $110 million to settle nearly 5,000 Engle progeny cases.
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