Big Tobacco continues to endure punches as lawsuits against it for various injury-related claims wind their way through the court system labyrinth. This week, a jury in Broward County awarded a whopping $46.5 million to a smoker from Ft. Lauderdale that suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The breakdown of the damages was $21.5 million in compensatory damages – more than the $20 million in compensatory the victim’s attorney requested in closing argument – and $25 million in punitive damages. Of the compensatory award, $16.5 goes to the victim, Tom Ryan, and $5 million is awarded to his wife.
This lawsuit bore out of the Engle class-action lawsuit. A class-action lawsuit is one that consists of a large group of people who have a common interest or matter to sue as a group. The suit was originally filed in May 1994 and consisted of approximately 100,000 smokers who claimed that their nicotine addiction was fueled by inadequate warnings from the cigarette manufacturers. Dr. Howard Engle, a south Florida pediatrician, was the lead plaintiff. He participated in the litigation partly to warn others of the dangers of smoking. That group won a settlement in July 2000 of $145 billion. However, on appeal, the Florida 3rd District Court of Appeal overturned the verdict for various reasons including that the group was too different to have been certified as a class. The Florida Supreme Court then decertified the class but allowed each of the members – known thereafter as the “Engle progeny” – to file their own suits individually. (The Florida Supreme Court did rule that many of the jury’s findings would remain, including that cigarettes which contain nicotine are addictive, that the cigarette industries conspired to hide the dangers of smoking from the public, and that smoking causes various deadly illnesses.)
This particular trial was the 19th Engle progeny for Tom Ryan’s attorney. Tom Ryan began smoking when he was 13 years old in 1955. At that time, there were no warning labels on cigarettes. He became very dependent on the nicotine in cigarettes, and his habit ballooned to 4 packs a day at one point. He smoked for over 40 years.
He tried to quit multiple times using various methods. He was able to finally obtain a prescription for some smoking addiction-curbing medication in 1997, and quit with its aid. However, that prescription came too late, as he had already developed the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Today Mr. Ryan relies on almost full-time supplemental oxygen to help him breathe.
While these lawsuits will not fix the irreparable damage cigarettes have caused and repair the families broken due to the cigarette industry’s deception, these settlements will provide some measure of solace to the victims and their families. It is truly a good day when justice is served.
If you or a loved one has suffered harm from a defective or unsafe product, don’t delay. Call the skilled attorneys at Brooks Law Group today to discuss your case. We may help you collect any compensation to which you may be entitled.
Sources: Daily Business Review, Florida Bar Journal, Howard A. Engle, M.D. v. Liggett Group, Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 (Fla. 2006).