$5M Verdict in Tobacco Trial Over Death of Man Who Was Cigarette-Free for More Than a Decade

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Miami, FL— A Florida jury handed down a $5 million verdict against Philip Morris Friday after concluding a Florida man died from lung cancer caused by the company’s Marlboro cigarettes. However, jurors apportioned 40% of fault to the smoker himself. Hoffman v. Philip Morris, 2017-CA-005939.

Jurors in Florida’s 11th Circuit State Court, in Dade County, capped a nine-day trial by concluding Robert Hoffman died of lung cancer caused by nicotine addiction and Philip Morris cigarettes. However, the jury’s apportionment of 60% of fault to the cigarette maker likely reduces the post-verdict award to $3,000,000. 

Robert Hoffman began smoking as a teenager and continued for years, favoring Philip Morris’ Marlboro-brand cigarettes. Hoffman quit smoking before he turned 30, but ultimately died of cancer when he was 46. His family contends his lung cancer was driven by his smoking and cigarettes that Philip Morris knew were addictive and dangerous. 

The case is one of thousands of so-called “Engle-progeny” lawsuits, claims spun from a 1990s class action by Florida smokers against the nation’s tobacco companies. After a trial court verdict in favor of the plaintiffs on defective design, fraud, and conspiracy claims, the Florida Supreme Court decertified the class. It ruled individual Engle progeny plaintiffs can recover only if they prove the smoker at the heart of each case was addicted to cigarettes that caused a smoking-related illness.

Causation served as a key battle line in the case. Philip Morris maintains there is insufficient evidence linking Hoffman’s smoking to his death. During Friday’s closings, the company’s attorney, Shook Hardy & Bacon’s Kenneth Reilly, noted healthcare providers treating Hoffman considered a range of possible causes for his cancer, including mesothelioma, because there was no definitive test to determine what caused the disease.

And Reilly highlighted evidence he said showed that, after 15 years of remaining smoke-free, a former smoker has nearly the same risk of developing lung cancer as a non-smoker.  “There you go,” Reilly said. “His level is down to somebody who never smokes, but they have a risk.”

But the Hoffman family’s attorney, Gerson & Schwartz’s Philip Gerson argued that medical evidence established the link between Hoffman’s smoking and cancer. In his closing, Gerson noted evidence of Hoffman’s cancer treatment, as well as expert testimony weighing against mesothelioma as the cause of cancer.

“This is just not close,” Gerson said. “The only witnesses in the case who had the qualifications to have an opinion about the medical cause of Robert Hoffman’s lung cancer and death were [plaintiff’s experts], and both of them agreed that it was  primary adenocarcinoma of the right lung.”

Email Arlin Crisco at acrisco@cvn.com

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