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Broward Jury Awards Former Mayor’s Sister $300 Million in Fraud Case Against Tobacco Giant Philip Morris USA

November.19. 2009

Within hours of closing arguments, a Broward Circuit Court jury returned a verdict of $300 million against Philip Morris USA in favor of Cindy Naugle, the sister of former Fort Lauderdale mayor Jim Naugle. Ms. Naugle, who quit smoking in 1993, picked up her first cigarette in 1968 at the age of 20 because she thought they would make her look more mature. She explained that had she known then what Philip Morris and other cigarette manufacturers already knew – that nicotine is a highly addictive drug and that cigarettes could cause serious health problems – she never would have started smoking.

After trying to quit without success for decades, Ms. Naugle, now 61, must travel in a wheelchair with 24-hour oxygen due to her emphysema. Although she accepted responsibility for her decision to start smoking in the first place, Philip Morris refused to admit its role in causing her illness.

Ms. Naugle was finally able to quit smoking in the early 1990s when the nicotine patch became available, but the damage was already done. “Cindy spends every minute of every day as if she were drowning,” said her attorney Robert W. Kelley. According to Attorney Todd Falzone, who also represented Ms. Naugle along with Attorney Todd McPharlin, “The jury saw her condition. We think that they felt it. She needed to rest for five minutes to catch her breath after making the 7 step walk to the witness stand.” The former mayor was with his sister throughout the entire trial, helping her get in and out of the courtroom and assisting her with her oxygen needs.

This lawsuit is one of many that have followed the 2000 verdict in the class action lawsuit Engle v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co, in which the Florida Supreme Court de-certified the class, allowing individual plaintiffs to file lawsuits against Big Tobacco companies. Ms. Naugle’s verdict is by far the largest to date among these Engle Progeny cases.

According to Mr. Kelley, Americans are fed up with corporate misconduct and fraud. “The cigarette companies managed to hide the truth about their product for a long time, but the truth is out now. And when the jury finally hears the truth about what these companies knew and when they knew it, they almost always side with the addicted smokers, most of whom started smoking as teenagers before there were any warning labels on cigarette packs.” Kelley predicts the industry is in for a long series of losses because “most Americans are fed-up with corporate fraud and misconduct.”

The verdict included $56.6 million for Ms. Naugle’s pain and suffering and for her past and future medical expenses, as well as $244 million in punitive damages to punish the company and discourage future misconduct. The jury attributed 10% fault to Ms. Naugle.

$17.4 Million Verdict in Tobacco Lawsuit

A Florida jury awarded Vickie McKeever $17.4 million in a lawsuit against Philip Morris USA Inc. after her husband died of obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer. The verdict included $3.5 million in damages for the husband’s pain and suffering, $11.6 million in punitive damages, and $2 million in damages caused to Vickie for the loss of her husband’s comfort, society, and attention.

According to court documents, Vickie’s husband, Theodore, was only 40% liable for these damages. After he began smoking penny cigarettes at the age of 13, Theodore switched to Marlboro cigarettes, filtered cigarettes, and eventually Marlboro Lights.

Attorney Todd McPharlin of Kelley/Uustal represented Vickie’s case, and explained that Theodore switched to Marlboro Lights because he believed they were a safer alternative to normal cigarettes.

During the course of the trial, McPharlin demonstrated that Philip Morris USA Inc. concealed information from consumers, and that Theodore relied on this information, which led to his illness and eventual death. The jury also determined that, prior to 1982, Philip Morris USA Inc. made misleading statements regarding the addictive nature of its products.

“The jury agreed that Philip Morris was responsible for the suffering Mr. McKeever endured as a result of his COPD and lung cancer caused by Philip Morris’ cigarettes and conduct covering decades of deception,” McPharlin said.

Read more about the case here.

Jury Hands Smoker $11.65 Million Award

October.18. 2013

The attorneys of Kelley / Uustal have a long record of success in and out of the courtroom, fighting for justice on behalf of the clients we represent. Many times, these cases have captured the attention of local and national media. Below are media accounts of some of our more noteworthy cases.

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Tobacco Plaintiff Wins $780,000

August.14. 2010

A Florida jury awarded $1.3 million last week to the widow of a lifelong smoker who died of lung cancer in 2004. Joseph Ferlanti smoked cigarettes for 65 years before being diagnosed with lung cancer in March 2003, his lawyer, Todd McPharlin, a partner at Kelley Uustal in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., told Lawyers USA. He died the next year at age 81.

The Ferlanti case was filed as a solo personal injury case but at one point was joined with the Engle litigation, McPharlin said, after the Florida Supreme Court reinstated the class of plaintiffs. But the case was tried on its own merits as a traditional personal injury suit without including the findings from Engle.

For the majority of his life, Ferlanti smoked Chesterfield cigarettes manufactured by the defendant, Liggett Group. A spokesperson for the company had no comment on the case.

During the three-week trial, causation was not the primary issue, McPharlin noted. Instead, the case turned on the issue of addiction.

“The defense did not contest medical causation but argued that it was [Ferlanti's] choice to smoke and that he chose to do so,” McPharlin said.
Both sides had experts testify on addiction.

“The defense essentially admitted that [Ferlanti] was addicted, but the question was whether or not he could quit, and how difficult it would have been for him to quit – really, it was a question of the degree of his addiction that was contested,” McPharlin explained.

From the beginning of the trial, McPharlin said the plaintiff took some responsibility for Ferlanti’s choice to smoke, and suggested to the jury that he be apportioned some fault, “in the range of 5 percent.”

Instead, over the course of an eight-hour deliberation period, the jury apportioned 60 percent of the fault to Liggett Group, the maker of Chesterfields, and 40 percent to Ferlanti.
McPharlin had asked jurors to award $1.5 million and they came close, awarding $1.3 million – netting the plaintiff $780,000 after apportionment.

The verdict did not include punitive damages.

The victory comes on the heels of the plaintiff’s win in the first of the individual Engle cases to be tried, where plaintiff Elaine Hess was awarded $8 million, including $5 million in punitive damages.

McPharlin’s firm, which is handling about 90 Engle cases, has a few slated for trial later this year.

Team is First to Thwart Tobacco Company’s Use of Unfair Questionnaire for a Record Breaking Tobacco Verdict

December.06. 2010

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 pulmonary disease.

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 jury selection.

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 were justified.

Buonomo v. RJR Tobacco Verdict

September.09. 2010

Coverage of Naugle v. Philip Morris Verdict

September.09. 2010

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