Attorney Robert Kelley said the $300 million jury verdict he won for an
ex-smoker was not enough to really hurt cigarette maker Philip Morris USA.
“We calculated what their daily profit is,” Kelley said. “It’s
$20 million a day.”
Broward Circuit Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld, who presided over the three-week
trial in November 2009, reduced the award to Cindy Naugle to $39 million
in February. In his ruling, the judge called the $56.5 million in compensatory
damages and $244 million in punitive damages excessive and shocking.
“To say that’s punishment, it’s not,” Kelley said.
“If you look at the numbers, it’s $600 million a month in
profit. It’s phenomenal. If you’re going to punish these guys,
you’ve got to hit them with big awards.”
On the question of damages, Naugle’s doctor estimated her future
medical care would cost about $3.5 million. Kelley explored the realm
of possibilities for her health care — including a transplant —
but didn’t request a specific damage figure for either compensatory
or punitive damages.
Naugle, sister of former Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle, started smoking
in 1968 when she was 20 and put down her Marlboro cigarettes for good
in 1993. She suffers from debilitating emphysema and chronic obstructive
Naugle lives in fear that her power will go out and her breathing machine
will shut off, Kelley said.
Her case is one of about 8,000 lawsuits against cigarette makers that were
filed after the Florida Supreme Court overturned a $145 billion class
action case in 2006.
While the justices decertified the class, they allowed class members to
file individual complaints buttressed by the original jury’s finding
that cigarettes are addictive, dangerous and cause disease. More than
20 cases were tried this year across the state.
Kelley not only won the highest award to date, he also was the first to
stop the defense from using a 25-page, multiple-choice questionnaire during
In a previous case, Kelley agreed to use the tobacco company’s questionnaire
and watched as the defense lawyers scanned them and sent them to jury
consulting firms and psychologists across the county.
“It gave them a huge advantage,” he said.
Many other plaintiff attorneys in smoker cases have since objected to its
use, Kelley said.
Kelley also did not stipulate to Philip Morris’ net worth as attorneys
have in most other smoker cases and instead called an economist to testify.
Valuations varied from $3 billion from the plaintiff’s side to $1.6
billion on the defense side.
With at least 20 attorneys representing Phillip Morris in the courtroom
every day, Kelley as lead counsel was joined by three other lawyers at
his firm. John Uustal, Todd McPharlin and Todd Falzone were co-counsel.
Philip Morris parent Altria Client Services is appealing the case. After
the verdict, associate general counsel Murray Garnick dismissed the trial
as “fundamentally unfair” and faulted the judge for “numerous
erroneous rulings.” After the award was reduced, he said no damages