Federal Appeals Court Overturns Landmark Case against Tobacco Company

Monday, December 24, 2012
Lung with centrilobular emphysema caused by smoking (photo: Dr, Edwin P. Ewing Jr., Wikipedia)

In an all too typical case of justice delayed, Lucinda Naugle of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, won a $300 million jury verdict against tobacco giant Philip Morris USA, Inc. (PM USA), more than three years ago—only to watch as judges whittled down the award while she waits for her money. Naugle began smoking when she was 20 years old and quit at the age of 45. Now 64 years old and suffering from emphysema caused by a quarter-century of cigarette smoking, Naugle sued PM USA in 2006, arguing that it knew cigarette smoking was addictive and harmful, but hid that knowledge from the public.


After the jury announced its landmark verdict against PM USA and awarded Naugle compensatory damages of $56.5 million and punitive damages of $244 million, the trial judge reduced the compensatory damages by 77% to $12.9 million and the punitive damages by 89% to $25.9 million, for a total award of $38.8 million—less than 13% of the jury amount. Like many American judges who go out of their way to protect large corporations from jury verdicts, Broward County Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld wrote that the jury, in his opinion, “was moved by passions - sympathy for [Naugle’s] suffering and anger toward PM USA’s conduct and strategy.”


Even after that gift from Judge Streitfeld, Philip Morris still appealed the reduced judgment—and recently got Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal, which had affirmed the verdict in June, to reverse itself and throw out the award entirely. The appeals court now says Naugle must face a new trial to determine damages, which will take months, if not years, to complete.

Thousands of Americans have sued tobacco companies since 1998, when seven of the largest cigarette makers agreed to a $206 billion master settlement involving 46 states. 

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Court Nixes Landmark Verdict for Ailing Smoker (by Deshayla Strachan, Courthouse News Service)

Philip Morris USA, Inc., v. Lucinda Naugle (Court Order) (pdf)

Big Tobacco Skates in Lucinda Naugle Case (by Kyle Swenson, Broward-Palm Beach New Times)

Judge Orders Tobacco Companies to Admit They Lied about Dangers of Smoking (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


ChipWatkins 5 years ago
This is a terrific editorial, but it stinks as a news item. Courts decide cases according to the law, not based on sympathy for one party or the other. Ms. Naugle began smoking in 1968, when the dangers of smoking had already been highly publicized by the federal government, so it is not unreasonable to suggest that she may have been significantly responsible for the damage to her health from smoking.

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