A Florida state court judge, Jeffrey Streitfeld, has decided that the largest individual award to a former smoker is excessive. The Daily Business Review (gavel bang: ABA Journal) reports on the good news for tobacco peddler Philip Morris:
Calling the $300 million jury verdict “excessive” and “shocking,” Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld said he would determine a lower award later against tobacco giant Philip Morris USA. He gave no indication when he would rule.
The landmark verdict was reached in November for Cindy Naugle, an emphysema patient who quit smoking in 1993.
There are few things that bother me more than smokers blaming tobacco companies for becoming addicted to their products. Does Philip Morris sell an illegal product? No. Do you need to be galactically stupid to smoke yet not know that smoking is dangerous? Yes. So what is the rationale for suing a company that produces a legal product you’d have to be epically dumb to not know is potentially dangerous?
As a smoker, I feel particularly qualified to say: it’s not Philip Morris’s fault if I get sick. It’s my fault. I take personal responsibility for my own health choices.
Personal responsibility. Seems like a winning argument, doesn’t it? Well, it’s pretty much the argument pursued by Philip Morris’s lawyers. And … it horribly backfired.
Judge Streitfeld has decided to step in to correct the lawyers’ mistake.
Judge Streitfeld noted that the jury didn’t like the “blame the smoker” argument from Philip Morris counsel:
“I am absolutely persuaded there was a passion in this verdict that resulted in an excessive verdict,” he said.
Streitfeld suggested the case offered “a lesson” for tobacco attorneys, whom he faulted for putting on a “blame the smoker” defense.
“It didn’t work,” he said. “It upset the jury.”
Obviously, Philip Morris was pretty happy:
Philip Morris attorney Andrew Brenner of Boies Schiller & Flexner in Miami called the award “a grossly excessive outlier.”
It’s great when a judge can step in and rectify a terrible defense strategy.
But it’s sad that the “blame the smoker” strategy doesn’t work. Half the fun of smoking is that it’s cool. And cool people don’t bitch and moan and whine about their own choices.
Smoker’s $300 Million Award to Be Overturned [Daily Business Review]
Judge Plans to Trim $300M Verdict for Ex-Smoker, Says Tobacco Lawyers’ Strategy Backfired [ABA Journal]
Earlier: Musical Chairs: Kirkland Litigation Partner David Bernick to Philip Morris