$12.5M Verdict Obtained for Widow of South Florida Police Officer

James “Jim” McHugh started smoking when he was a teenager in the early sixties. He smoked every single day since, many times up to two packs of cigarettes a day. James died in 2009 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). He was 66 years old. He left behind his wife of 45 years, Diane.

Kelley | Uustal worked on Jim’s case since 2006. Attorney Catherine Darlson worked alongside Eric Rosen. Tobacco cases are notoriously difficult to try, and even harder to win. Darlson and Rosen had to show the jury that James was heavily addicted to cigarettes, and that this addiction led to his death.

James McHugh was raised in Philadelphia where he met Diane at a bowling alley in 1962. They married two years later and moved to Florida in 1970. They had three children, all boys. Several family members testified that James, a lifelong police officer with the Surfside Police Department as well as Miami Metro Police Department, was never without a cigarette in his hand. He was unable to sit through dinners, movies, or concerts without getting up to smoke. James smoked for 48 years. His addiction affected every aspect of his life, and sadly, was passed down to his children. By the time the trial started in February of 2020, James and two of his sons had all died of smoking-related illnesses.

The trial against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company lasted eight days. Diane turned 75 on the day of closing arguments, one day before the jury reached its verdict. On February 19, 2020, The Broward County jury found that the tobacco manufacturer hid the dangers of smoking, and awarded Diane $12.5 million.

“No verdict will bring Jim back, but after a hard-fought case we’re grateful to the jury for appreciating who Jim was and what losing him meant to Diane,” said Darlson. “Their time, attention and understanding was shown in the verdict.”

This case was part of the Engle class action suit that was filed against Big Tobacco in Florida in 1994.  The case went to trial and in 2000, the jury returned a verdict against the tobacco industry with findings of fraud and conspiracy, and ordered them to pay $145 billion. But in 2003, The Florida Supreme Court decertified the group citing too many differences between class members. However, individual class member were allowed to file lawsuits of their own.

“I am happy that I followed this lawsuit through with the help of my attorneys Eric Rosen and Catherine Darlson,” Diane said. “It was quite an experience. It helped clear my mind and took a great weight off my shoulders. I also want to thank all the staff at Kelley | Uustal, Judge Jeffrey Levenson and the amazing jury. I am so thankful.”

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