On April 1, 2013, a jury in the Middle District of Florida held tobacco companies R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris USA accountable for the wrongful death of Carol LaSard. LaSard, who began smoking cigarettes as a young teenager in the late 1940s, died of lung cancer in 1996.
LaSard’s daughter, Cheryl Searcy, filed an action on behalf of the estate against R.J Reynolds and Phillip Morris. Searcy also sought to recover for the loss of parental companionship, instruction and guidance, in addition to the mental pain and suffering she endured as the result of the loss of her mother. The action was an Engle case progeny and therefore certain claims were given res judicata effect, including: (1) that smoking caused a variety of specific diseases; (2) that nicotine in cigarettes was addictive; (3) that Defendants placed cigarettes on the market that were defective and unreasonably dangerous; and (4) that all of the Engle Defendants, including R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris, were negligent.
According to Searcy, LaSard smoked “low tar” and “filtered” cigarettes because, through Defendants’ marketing and representations, she was led to believe that they were safer than other cigarettes. Nevertheless, Searcy claimed the tobacco companies knew that “low tar” and “filtered” cigarettes were no less addictive or less dangerous than unfiltered or “regular” cigarettes. Despite such knowledge, the tobacco companies failed to properly warn consumers of the serious health risks associated with smoking that type of cigarette.
In opposition, Defendants claimed LaSard had made the conscious decision to smoke and that she was aware of the health risks involved with smoking. Further, Defendants’ psychiatric expert testified that LaSard was not in fact addicted to smoking and thus, her continued smoking was essentially by choice.
The jury held R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris each 30% liable and LaSard 40% liable, awarding LaSard’s estate $6 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in punitive damages. Neither the punitive damages nor the compensatory damages were reduced by LaSard’s comparative negligence.
COURT: U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, Jacksonville
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