Pointing to “intentional” wrongdoing in the past by the tobacco industry, a state appeals court Wednesday ordered two cigarette makers to pay a full $35 million jury award in a case involving a man who had to undergo two double-lung transplants.
A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned a lower-court decision that would have reduced the payment because of a finding that former smoker Richard Boatright was partially at fault. Boatright began smoking at age 12 and developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at age 39, the ruling said.
In a lawsuit filed in Polk County, a jury awarded $15 million in compensatory damages to Boatright and his wife and $20 million in punitive damages. A judge, however, reduced the compensatory damages to $12.75 million because of what is known as “comparative” fault involving Boatright’s smoking.
Almost all of the verdict was against cigarette maker Philip Morris USA, with a small portion against Liggett Group, LLC.
In a 15-page decision Wednesday, the appeals court said the damages should not have been reduced and detailed past misconduct by the tobacco industry.
“The evidence presented showed that the defendants and their co-conspirators in the tobacco industry intentionally designed addictive and deadly cigarettes and conspired for 50 years to hide the dangers of smoking cigarettes from the public,” said the decision, written by appeals-court Judge Morris Silberman and joined by judges Edward LaRose and John Badalamenti.
“The tobacco industry spent billions of dollars to highly engineer cigarettes to promote addiction to nicotine so that smokers would buy more cigarettes. And the tobacco industry searched for new smokers by investing heavily in marketing that targeted youths.”
The case is one of thousands in Florida that are known as “Engle progeny” cases. Such cases are linked to a 2006 Supreme Court ruling that established critical findings about the health dangers of smoking and misrepresentation by cigarette makers.