A Miami jury returned a $17.5 million verdict, including $10 million in punitive damages, against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris USA in a smoker’s death. After a three-week trial before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge David Miller, jurors sided with Kenneth Gloger, who claimed the tobacco companies conspired for almost 50 years to conceal the truth about the dangers of cigarettes. Gloger served as personal representative of the estate of his deceased wife, Irene, who died in 1996 after a battle with lung cancer. “These cigarette … companies lied, cheated and stole from the American people for over 45 years,” said plaintiffs lawyer Stuart Ratzan of the Ratzan Law Group in Miami.
Ratzan teamed with partner Stuart J. Weissman, Key Biscayne litigator John Crabtree of Crabtree & Auslander and Fort Lauderdale attorney Edward Zebersky of Zebersky Payne to represent Gloger in the Engle progeny case. Plaintiffs counsel argued the defendants knowingly sold a dangerous product for decades, putting profit before customer safety. “They hooked an entire generation of kids, who by the 1990s were dying of cancer,” Ratzan said. “I’m just amazed by how they occupy this perch in American life.” The biggest hurdle for Weissman, Crabtree, Zebersky and Ratzan was convincing jurors, who now understand that tobacco and nicotine can lead to addiction and illness, that consumers were once in the dark about these risks. “That’s hard to overcome. People tend to use 2018 goggles to gain perspective on things that happened in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s,” Ratzan said.
“The cigarette companies had a marketing campaign to make smoking cool. … They knew that the younger they got kids hooked, they would get customers for life.” Irene Gloger tried her first cigarette when she was 14, according to court pleadings. She was addicted by 15 and dead by 47 from lung cancer after decades of tobacco use, according to her attorneys. She quit smoking in 1995, but it was too late, and she died the following year. She had two children but never lived to see any of her four grandchildren. “It took her a few years, but when her father-in-law was diagnosed with emphysema, the truth of the danger of smoking cigarettes became clear to her,” Ratzan said. Irene Gloger’s attorneys said she tried to quit for years, using prescription nicotine patches when they first became available to help wean her off cigarettes.
Their four-count amended complaint for damages, filed in October 2014, alleged negligence, strict liability, fraudulent concealment and civil conspiracy to fraudulently conceal. The case had 448 docket entries by the end of last month. Defense counsel included Keri L. Arnold of Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer in New York, Laura K. Whitmore of Shook, Hardy & Bacon in Tampa, Cory Hohnbaum of King & Spalding in Charlotte, North Carolina, and his Atlanta colleagues W. Randall Bassett and Val Leppert. They raised numerous affirmative defenses, including arguments the plaintiff failed to raise a valid course of action and federal law precluded some of Kenneth Gloger’s claims.
The jury disagreed and returned the verdict in plaintiff’s favor Feb. 5. Jurors found Irene Gloger was addicted to cigarettes containing nicotine, and that was a legal cause of her lung cancer and death. They found both defendants responsible and awarded both compensatory and punitive damages. In determining comparative fault, they held R.J. Reynolds 50 percent accountable, Philip Morris 30 percent responsible and assigned 20 percent of the blame to Irene Gloger. Jurors award Kenneth Gloger and his two children $2.5 million each for a total of $7.5 million plus $5 million in punitive damages against each company. “These cases, they have a bigger meaning than just moving money from one side of the room to the other,” Ratzan said. “There are safer ways to deliver nicotine but none more profitable than the cigarette.”
Kenneth Gloger, as personal representative of the Estate of Irene Gloger v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, et al. Case no.: 11-23377 CA 21 Description: Products liability Filing date: Jan. 10, 2008 Verdict date: Feb. 5, 2018 Judge: Miami-Dade Circuit Judge David Miller Plaintiffs attorneys: Stuart N. Ratzan and Stuart J. Weissman, Ratzan Law Group, Miami; Edward H. Zebersky, Zebersky Payne, Fort Lauderdale; and John G. Crabtree, Crabtree & Auslander, Key Biscayne Defense attorneys: Cory Hohnbaum, Charlotte, North Carolina, and W. Randall Bassett and Val Leppert, Atlanta, King & Spalding; Keri L. Arnold, Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer, New York; and Laura K. Whitmore, Shook, Hardy & Bacon, Tampa Verdict amount: $17.5 million
Read the Full Article published on March 5, 2018