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Florida Jury Awards Smoker’s Widow US$26.6 Million

early-paintings-by-vincent-van-gogh-16Last updated: March 25, 2010


Nathan Cohen could not stop smoking even after he was diagnosed with lung cancer, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

He tried hypnosis, nicotine gum, even attended anti-smoking seminars before succumbing to cancer in 1994.

A Broward Circuit jury Wednesday awarded the widow of the deceased cigarette smoker $26.6 million after finding cigarette manufacturers R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris liable for causing his lung cancer and death.

The jury decided the cigarette makers should pay his widow $10 million each in punitive damages and awarded Cohen’s widow, Robin Cohen of Plantation, Fla., $6.6 million in compensatory damages. A $10 million jury award was reduced by a finding that her husband was one-third responsible for his illness.

The jury deliberated 5 and a half hours over two days on the question of damages in the trial before Broward Circuit Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld.

Florida smokers filed about 8,000 lawsuits after the Florida Supreme Court threw out a record $145 billion class action award in 2006 but allowed people to sue individually. Cohen filed one of the follow-on suits.

Nathan Cohen smoked from age 14 in 1940 until he died at 68 in 1994. He smoked Reynolds brands Salem and Camel and Philip Morris’ Benson & Hedges cigarettes.

“It was a 50-year conspiracy where the tobacco companies deliberately and consciously lied,” said Adam Trop, one of Cohen’s attorneys. “All the while, they knew people were dying.”

Trop said he has about 50 more lawsuits pending for individual smokers.

“We are just getting started,” he said.

Trop, a partner at Paige Trop & Ameen in Hollywood, Fla., tried the case with firm partner Gary Paige and Miami attorney Alex Alvarez. He said it was the first case stemming from the class action that held two tobacco companies accountable at the same time.

R.J. Reynolds spokesman David Howard said the company would appeal the verdict and prepare for other smoker litigation. “We are confident in our defenses,” he said.

Phillip Morris’ parent company plans an appeal.

“The verdict is the result of legal rulings by the trial court that improperly eliminated most of the plaintiff’s burden of proof,” said Murray Garnick, senior vice president for Altria Client Services.

Written by John Pacenti

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