MAJOR VERDICT UPHELD AGAINST TOBACCO COMPANIES
In a case filed by a longtime smoker who suffers chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a federal appeals court Tuesday upheld a $41.1 million verdict --- including $25.3 million in punitive damages --- against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris USA. A panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the cigarette makers’ arguments that the verdict, which included $15.8 million in compensatory damages, should have been overturned. The ruling was a victory for Kenneth Kerrivan, who was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, in 1993 after about 30 years as a smoker. The case is one of thousands of lawsuits known as “Engle progeny” cases filed in Florida against tobacco companies. Those cases stem from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court ruling that established critical findings about issues such as the dangers of smoking and misrepresentation by cigarette makers. In awarding the compensatory damages in the Kerrivan case, a jury found Philip Morris 50 percent at fault, R.J. Reynolds 31 percent at fault and Kerrivan 19 percent at fault. Philip Morris also was ordered to pay $15.7 million in punitive damages, while R.J. Reynolds was ordered to pay $9.6 million in punitive damages. In the appeal, the tobacco companies argued, in part, that the damages were excessive. But the appeals court rejected the arguments, finding that evidence “established the tobacco companies’ indifference and reckless disregard for the health and safety of smokers” such as Kerrivan. “The tobacco companies knew that cigarettes containing nicotine were addictive and caused serious health conditions,” said the 31-page ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Jill Pryor and joined by judges William Pryor and Eduardo Robreno. “Instead of admitting these facts, they concealed and openly denied them. Further, they coordinated attacks on the source of health warnings, intentionally casting doubt on the connection between cigarettes and detriment to health.”