A man diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was recently awarded $41 million by a Florida jury. Both Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company will be liable for the damages incurred by the plaintiff in this case. Lung cancer lawyers at Pintas & Mullins explain this case and others like it around the country.
The cigarette giants were accused in this case of conspiring to conceal the dangers of smoking, along with the true addictiveness of cigarettes. The plaintiff, Kenneth Kerrivan, started smoking at age 14, eventually developing severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in 1993. He did ultimately quit smoking, and shortly thereafter filed this lawsuit.
Kerrivan alleged that tobacco companies hid information about the addictive nature of cigarettes, as he became addicted to them during an era when they were widely marketed to youths. Tobacco companies would use celebrities and even famous athletes to promote their products in attempts to appeal to and addict children so they would be lifetime smokers.
This $41 million verdict is the latest in the string of cases resulting from the 2006 Engle vs. Liggett Group class action, which was filed on behalf of smokers and their families injured by cigarette companies. Despite a $145 billion verdict, the class action was decertified in 2006 by the Florida Supreme Court, however, everyone involved is still allowed to sue Big Tobacco companies individually. There were about 700,000 class members in the Engle suit. Several of these class members have already sued successfully in Florida courts, winning more than $500 million in verdicts.
In a similar case in California, a man diagnosed with mesothelioma was awarded $18 million. The victim, Bobbie Izell, was exposed to asbestos while working with joint compounds made by Hamilton Materials. The asbestos was supplied by Union Carbide, which attempted to reverse the multi-million dollar award on appeal. The California appellate court denied this attempt, stating the Union Carbide's "highly reprehensible" behavior made it liable for the award.
The court continued to say that the severity of Izell's injury - his mesothelioma diagnosis - showed that Union Carbide acted with deplorable indifference to the health and safety of others. They based these opinions off the company's internal documents on asbestos, some dating back to the 1960s. In those reports, it is clear that Union knew that even low levels of asbestos exposure could cause mesothelioma, and that it was purposefully choosing not to warn consumers of these dangers.
The company admitted that, any admission of warning of the risk of cancer would have ruined its asbestos business. Evidence like this, combined with medical expert testimony, was enough to establish a reasonably probability that exposure to asbestos provided by Union Carbide contributed to Izell's mesothelioma. As stated, he worked at Hamiton Materials for several decades with joint compounds, which are known to contain asbestos.
Izell worked as a cement contractor and general contractor building homes in the Los Angeles are until his retirement in 1994. The $14 million damage award was meant to penalize Union Carbide $1 million for every year it continued to sell asbestos after the 1967 memo mentioned above.
Another asbestos supplier facing liability for exposure, W.R. Grace, is facing a similar lawsuit filed by two of its former employees. The workers are planning to sue W.R. Grace and its insurance company, Maryland Casualty Company, over the illnesses they developed from asbestos exposure. That exposure occurred in now-infamous Libby, Montana, which has been particularly devastated by the long-term effects of asbestos exposure.
W.R. Grace owned and operated an asbestos mine and mill site in Libby for several decades, despite the company's knowledge that asbestos was fatally dangerous. The mine has been closed for over twenty years, however, the residents of Libby continue to be diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other fatal illnesses.