Within hours of closing arguments, a Broward Circuit Court jury returned a verdict of $300 million against Philip Morris USA in favor of Cindy Naugle in one of the first Engle Progeny cases to go to trial.
Ms. Naugle, who quit smoking in 1993, picked up her first cigarette in 1968 at the age of 20 because she thought they would make her look more mature. She explained that had she known then what Philip Morris and other cigarette manufacturers already knew – that nicotine is a highly addictive drug and that cigarettes could cause serious health problems – she never would have started smoking.
After trying to quit without success for decades, Ms. Naugle, 61 at the time of the verdict, traveled in a wheelchair with 24-hour oxygen due to her emphysema. Although she accepted responsibility for her decision to start smoking in the first place, Philip Morris refused to admit its role in causing her illness.
Ms. Naugle was finally able to quit smoking in the early 1990s when the nicotine patch became available, but the damage was already done. “Cindy spends every minute of every day as if she were drowning,” said her attorney Robert W. Kelley. According to Attorney Todd Falzone, who also represented Ms. Naugle, “The jury saw her condition. We think that they felt it. She needed to rest for five minutes to catch her breath after making the 7 step walk to the witness stand.”
This lawsuit is one of many that have followed the 2000 verdict in the class action lawsuit Engle v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., in which the Florida Supreme Court decertified the class, allowing individual plaintiffs to file lawsuits against Big Tobacco companies. Ms. Naugle’s verdict is by far the largest to date among these Engle Progeny cases.
According to Mr. Kelley, Americans are fed up with corporate misconduct and fraud. “The cigarette companies managed to hide the truth about their product for a long time, but the truth is out now. And when the jury finally hears the truth about what these companies knew and when they knew it, they almost always side with the addicted smokers, most of whom started smoking as teenagers before there were any warning labels on cigarette packs.”
The verdict included $56.6 million for Ms. Naugle’s pain and suffering and for her past and future medical expenses, as well as $244 million in punitive damages to punish the company and discourage future misconduct. The jury attributed 10% fault to Ms. Naugle.
At the time, the verdict was the largest award given to an individual suing a tobacco company, and was featured on NBC, ABC, 60 Minutes, and The New York Times. Later, the verdict amount for punitive damages was reduced to $36.8 million by the trial court judge.
Philip Morris USA later appealed this award, stating that the punitive damages were still excessive. The appeal was considered at the 4th District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach, which upheld Philip Morris USA’s liability in the case, but decided that a new jury would consider the final amount to be awarded to the plaintiff.
The jury in the second trial again sided with Ms. Naugle, but this time for a lesser amount. Unfortunately, it was too late for Cindy Naugle who died before she could receive the lung transplant that the award would have allowed.