In what is believed to be the largest single plaintiff award to date against a tobacco company, a Florida jury awarded $300 million in compensatory and punitive damages to a former smoker who filed a lawsuit against Philip Morris USA over her emphysema.
Cindy Naugle, 61, was awarded $56.6 million for past and future medical expenses, as well as pain and suffering. The jury from Broward County Circuit Court also levied a $244 million punitive damage award against the tobacco company.
Naugle, who said that she began smoking in 1968 to make herself look older, alleged that she would have never started smoking if she had known of the potential health effects. The smoker’s lawsuit claimed that the tobacco companies knew smoking caused a variety of lung diseases, but kept those side effects hidden.
As a result of smoking for about 25 years, Naugle claimed that she suffers from emphysema, requires around-the-clock oxygen and is confined to a wheelchair due to how easily she is winded. The jury found her to be 10% responsible for her own condition, meaning that while Philip Morris is responsible for all of the punitive damages; it is only responsible for 90% of the compensatory damages.
Naugle’s case is one of about 8,000 smoker lawsuits filed against tobacco companies in Florida, known as Engle Progeny lawsuits. The cases stem from a 2006 decision by the Florida Supreme Court, in Engle v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., to vacate a 2000 verdict in a class action lawsuit. Although the appeals court overturned the $145 billion verdict awarded on behalf of an estimated 700,000 smokers, plaintiffs were allowed to file individual claims and use the liability findings from the class action trial.
Tobacco companies have called the ruling unfair and unconstitutional, because it allows juries to look at a previous jury’s findings. However, plaintiffs have pointed out that they must still prove that the addiction caused the damages, as opposed to the damage being caused by the choice of the smoker to start smoking.