A jury in federal court in Florida has returned a verdict of $27 million against Philip Morris USA Inc. and in favor of plaintiff Judith Berger, who started smoking when she was 14 years old in 1958.
At the trial, evidence was introduced showing that 90 percent of daily cigarette smokers start smoking as teenagers and that the tobacco industry targeted youth for this very reason. The $27 million verdict included a punitive damages award of $20,760,000 and 14 cents.
“We are pleased that the jury held Philip Morris accountable for their calculated choice to target children, such as Mrs. Berger, to take up smoking,” said attorney Kenneth Byrd of the Nashville office of national plaintiffs’ law firm Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP. He was joined by co-counsel Lance Oliver of Motley Rice LLC.
The jury heard evidence that the earlier one takes up smoking, the more likely they are to become addicted and the stronger that addiction.
“The addition of 14 cents is just as meaningful as the $20 million before it,” Byrd said. “The jury understood our society should protect 14 year olds, not target them for profits as the cigarette industry does.” The jury was able to see, among other documents, a Philip Morris internal memo that stated “today’s teenager is tomorrow’s regular customer.”
“I am so grateful that the jury held Philip Morris accountable for its actions over the past 60 years,” stated Mrs. Berger, who has developed severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from smoking. “Before this lawsuit I had no idea that the tobacco industry deliberately designed cigarettes to make them addictive and then conspired to lie to the public about their deadly effects."
"I fought this battle in part for my twin sister Josephine -- may she rest in peace -- who died from the same disease that will take my life in the next few years. I encourage anyone whose rights are violated by Philip Morris -- or any corporation -- to stand up, fight for justice and hold them accountable for their actions.”
Berger smoked cigarettes that were marketed as safer -- filter cigarettes and then light cigarettes – doing just as Philip Morris’ marketing sought to convince Berger and other smokers to do. "The truth is that light cigarettes were no safer, and the evidence showed Philip Morris officials knew that," Byrd said.
"At trial Philip Morris attempted to lay all the blame on Mrs. Berger for choices she made as a kid. Thankfully the jury saw through this and held Philip Morris accountable for its choices," stated Oliver said. “The verdict is significant for Mrs. Berger as well as the hundreds and hundreds of other Florida residents and families who have been harmed by the same conduct and are still awaiting their day in court."
At the trial, Byrd served as lead counsel and was joined by Oliver and Lieff Cabraser attorney John Spragens. The case is entitled Judith Berger v. R.J. Reynolds, et. al, Case No. 3:09-CV-14157. Mr. Byrd and Mr. Spragens are licensed to practice law in Tennessee. Mr. Oliver is licensed to practice law in Florida, Alabama, South Carolina and Washington, D.C.