Broward Jury: Tobacco companies must pay $75.35 million to smoker's widow
June 2, 2012
Four tobacco companies must pay $75.35 million in damages to the widow of a Lauderhill smoker who died from bladder cancer and heart disease, a Broward jury decided Thursday afternoon.
The verdict for the family of cement finisher Johnnie Calloway is one of the largest so far in the wave of more than 7,000 tobacco lawsuits filed in Florida courts as a result of a 2006 state Supreme Court ruling.
A Broward Circuit Court jury found R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co, Philip Morris USA, Lorillard Tobacco Co. and Liggett Group responsible for $20.5 million in compensatory damages and another $54.85 million in punitive damages.
Calloway, a father of eight, had smoked up to three packs a day until his death in 1992 at the age of 59. His wife of 20 years, Marvine Calloway, said she hopes the verdict sends a strong message to the tobacco companies.
"I'm glad justice is served and I want them out of business," she said.
Steve Callahan, a Philip Morris USA spokesperson, said Thursday that the company will appeal.
The Calloway lawsuit is a byproduct of the Florida Supreme Court's ruling in Engle v. Liggett, a class-action case in which a Miami-Dade County jury leveled a $145 billion verdict—then thought to be the largest punitive damage award in American legal history—against five tobacco companies. The state Supreme Court tossed out the monetary damages, but ruled ill smokers and the families of deceased smokers could file individual lawsuits with the Miami-Dade jury's findings about the health risks of cigarettes already established.
So far, 63 lawsuits arising from the Engle ruling have gone to trial with 43 resulting in verdicts for the plaintiffs, said Edward Sweda, senior attorney with the anti-smoking Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University School of Law.
The verdicts have been as high as $300 million with the Calloway case one of the 10 biggest, said Scott Schlesinger, one of the attorneys for the Calloway family.
Callahan said that since the beginning of 2011, Philip Morris USA has been involved in 17 Engle cases with about two-thirds resulting in either defense verdicts or mistrials.