Kelley Uustal Trial Attorney
December 19, 2022

Florida State Appeals Court Upholds $2.5 million verdict against Philip Morris

A Florida state appeals court upheld the $2.5 million verdict in an Engle progeny case against Philip Morris, finding that key testimony from the deceased smoker’s daughter, represented by Kelley Uustal Founding Partner Robert Kelley, provided evidence that her father relied on the tobacco company’s representations that smoking wasn’t harmful.

The appeal stems from a 2019 verdict from a Miami-Dade County jury that found that Philip Morris was 50% responsible for former Marlboro smoker Ulisee Holliman’s fatal lung cancer, with Holliman bearing the remainder. The jury returned a verdict in Holliman’s favor for negligence, strict liability, and conspiracy claims and awarded $2.5 million in compensatory damages.

In an appeal against the $2.5 million verdict, Philip Morris argued that Ruby Holliman provided insufficient evidence to prove detrimental reliance and legal cause. But the panel said the record showed that tobacco companies gave false and misleading statements about the dangers of smoking for decades and that the “conspiracy went on until at least the late 1990s, when the industry first began publicly admitting that smoking is addictive and causes cancer and other diseases, and that there is no such thing as a safe cigarette.”

Judge Fleur J. Lobree penned an opinion stating that the Third District Court of Appeal refused to set aside the jury’s verdict against Philip Morris in favor of their proposed conspiracy claim. With this refusal by the Third District, it will keep in place the win for Ruby Holliman, whose father, Ulisee Holliman, died in 1993 from lung cancer.

According to the appeals panel, Ulisee Holliman’s daughter was key in leading to the verdict being upheld. She stated that her father continued to smoke in the 1980s after seeing television programs about the dangers of smoking because he relied on information provided by tobacco companies.

“This evidence allowed for a reasonable conclusion that Holliman continued to smoke because he was misled by the tobacco companies into believing that smoking was not harmful to his health, at least until the mid-1980s when he received the first personal warnings about the risks associated with smoking and made his first attempts to quit,” the panel said. “This was sufficient evidence of detrimental reliance.”

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