Cigarettes Lead to Jacksonville Woman’s Death, $40 Million Verdict

(July 15, 2011)

The widower of a smoker who died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was awarded $40 million by a Jacksonville, Florida jury in May. This verdict comes as the third-highest amongst the Engle progeny cases, where the jury must determine whether the plaintiff was addicted to cigarettes and if that addiction caused his or her injury or – in this case – death.

If the jury decides this addiction did cause the injury, then they are shown the Engle findings: cigarettes are defective, unreasonably dangerous, addictive, and tobacco companies conspired to hide negative information so the customers would continue using their product.

Patty Allen, the woman who died due to her cigarette addiction, started smoking in 1966 when she was still in high school. She was the formulaic goldmine for these cigarette companies: get them addicted young and give them no reason to quit.

It was on record that Allen tried everything from patches to hypnosis to try to shake her habit, but her addiction was so strong that she kept coming back to the nicotine. (Somewhere in their warehouses you can hear the cigarette company’s cash register shouting CHA-CHING!)

The defense tried to argue that Allen, as well as many other smokers, have a choice to quit smoking or keep the habit going, to which they say she chose the latter. The lawyer for Allen’s widow rebutted with: “one of our counter-arguments is that addiction corrupts and destructs the natural process of self-preservation.” Smokers’ only “choice” is to continue smoking.

He provided evidence that showed that the tobacco industry made a conscientious decision to convince smokers that it was okay to continue smoking. He also urged to the jurors that they needed to put themselves in Allen’s shoes as to when she started her smoking habit. Although we know the danger and risks involved with cigarettes today, that information was not as well-known back in the ’60s.

Two hours and a calculator request later, the jury awarded Allen $6 million in compensatory damages and $34 million in punitive damages (to be split evenly between two defendants). The jury apportioned 40 percent fault to Allen, which diminished the compensatory award from $6 million to $3.6 million.

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