In the latest blow to the US tobacco industry, a Florida jury ruled yesterday that Philip Morris and other big cigarette companies were responsible for the terminal illnesses of three smokers and instructed them to pay a total of $12.7m (£8m) in compensation. The size of the payment could be multiplied many times over if the same jury decides that the plaintiffs should also receive punitive damages.
Mary Farnan, who has lung cancer, was awarded $2.85m; the husband of Angie Della Veccia, who died of lung cancer, was awarded $4.02m; Frank Amodeo, who has throat cancer, was awarded $5.83m.
These were the highest compensation awards made by any US jury in any of the tobacco cases that have come to court. The previous highest award - $1.72m - was made by a California jury last week. But the awards fell far short of the amounts claimed to compensate for lost earnings, personal suffering and other costs.
The awards stem from a class-action lawsuit brought last year against Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds, Brown & Williamson and three other companies on behalf of up to one million smokers in Florida. The jury - the same six people who determined yesterday's damages payments - found the firms liable for selling defective products that made smokers ill. As in other cases now under way across the United States, it was argued that the companies knowingly marketed a harmful and addictive product without warning consumers.
The same Florida jury must now consider punitive damages, but this final phase of the case is not expected to begin for several weeks. This is the real threat to the tobacco industry, which fears awards running into billions of dollars.
It was in an effort to fend off just such an eventuality that the companies reached agreement with a group of US state governments to pay around $250bn over 25 years to compensate for the costs of medical treatment for people with smoking-related diseases. But the agreement did not cover cases already in the legal pipeline.Reuse content