Judge Reverses a Landmark $300 Million Award to Ex-smoker

Several months ago, November 19th, a Jury Panel in South Florida decided that Philip Morris USA should pay $300 million in damages to an ex-smoker, ruling that the largest tobacconist in United States showed negligence that triggered the plaintiff’s emphysema.

However, last week, Jeffrey E. Streitfeld, a judge of a Broward Circuit Court overturned the highest-ever award paid to an individual.

The Judge named the $300 million verdict awarded by Jury as “shocking” and exorbitant, announcing that he would reward a smaller sum of money as the compensation for the damages due to be paid by Philip Morris USA. The Judge did not reveal the date when he would decide, but added he has been considering the case for a long time.

The history-making verdict was announced back in November for the plaintiff Cindy Naugle, a chain smoker, who quit in 1993, due to severe emphysema. Judge Streitfeld acknowledged that the panel’s ruling to give the plaintiff $244 million in exemplary damages and additional $56.5 million in factual damages resulted from rage and surpassed the reasonable amount paid in compensation and punishment

In compliance with Florida legislation, judges have to lessen the damages awarded by jury in case they are proved to be excessive. Judge Streitfeld, who took the chair on Naugle’s trial which lasted for over 20 days, stated he would estimate an appropriate reduction grounded by the evidence.

Cindy Naugle, who is by the way the cousin of Jim Naugle, ex-Mayor of Fort Lauderdale, claimed she was not able to move properly as she had severe problems with breathing and had to carry a walkie-talkie everywhere she was going, so her relatives could help her in case of emergency. The jury panel determined Philip Morris USA has been liable for her condition.

Commenting on the jury’s ruling, Richard Rosenthal, an eminent Miami attorney stated a $12 million verdict was absolutely justified award for all the suffering the plaintiff had to overcome in the past. Naugle’s lawyer Robert Kelley agreed with Rosenthal and claimed the ruling should be upheld.

Andrew Brenner, the lawyer for Philip Morris said the verdict was too excessive and said they would seek a reasonable reduction.

The Naugle case is one of more than 8,000 similar cases against cigarette makers, which were submitted when the Florida Supreme Court withdrew a state class action against the tobacco companies and annulated a $145 billion award for punitive damages. The court decided that plaintiffs should seek legal proceedings individually and base on the initial ruling by Miami jury that smoking is harmful and triggers severe health complications.

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