Court Nixes Landmark Verdict for Ailing Smoker | Courthouse News Service
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Court Nixes Landmark Verdict for Ailing Smoker

(CN) - A Florida woman with emphysema who won a landmark $300 million judgment against Phillip Morris must face a new trial on damages, an appeals court ruled.

In a 2006 complaint, Lucinda Naugle claimed that Philip Morris knew that smoking cigarettes was addictive and harmful to a smoker's health, but hid that information from the public. She claimed that she began smoking in 1968, quit in 1993 and now has emphysema.

A jury in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., found in 2009 that Philip Morris was negligent and owed her more than $300 million. The verdict said Naugle bore only 10 percent of the blame for her emphysema, while Philip Morris was 90 percent to blame because of its advertising campaigns.

Though the court shaved a few million off the award of compensatory damages, and reduced the punitive damages by 90 percent, Philip Morris still appealed the recalculated $36.7 million judgment.

The Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed in June, but made an about-face last week after rehearing the case. It now says 64-year-old Naugle must face a new trial to determine damages.

"PM USA argues that because the trial court expressly found that both the compensatory and punitive damages awards were infected by passion and prejudice, and that the jury disregarded the court's instructions, likely including punishment for non-party harms in awarding punitive damages, the awards must be set aside because these errors cannot be cured by remittitur," the unsigned opinion states. "Instead, PM USA argues a new trial is the proper remedy. Under the unique facts of this case, we agree."

In deeming the jury's award excessive, the trial court had noted that: "The jury was moved by passions - sympathy for [Naugle's] suffering and anger toward PM USA's conduct and strategy, resulting in the failure to follow my instructions that the damages awarded shall be based solely on PM USA's conduct directed to this plaintiff, and the harm caused to this plaintiff." (Emphasis added by appeals court.)

Thousands have file suit against tobacco companies since 1998 when seven of the largest tobacco companies agreed to a $206 billion master settlement involving 46 states.

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