Plaintiffs want $131M in landmark Fla. tobacco case

John O'Brien Feb. 17, 2009, 7:14pm

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - A Broward County jury is being asked to award $131 million to the widow and son of a man who died from lung cancer in Florida's first individual case of a tobacco company blamed for creating an addiction.

It is the first of thousands of suits brought on behalf of those who died or suffered from a tobacco-related illness before Nov. 21, 1996. Last week, a jury found that Philip Morris USA was at least partly responsible for the death of Stuart Hess.

A 2006 decision by the state Supreme Court overturned a $145 billion punitive damages award in a class action suit and required individuals to prove they were harmed by tobacco companies.

The jury began deliberating the amount it will award David and Elaine Hess Tuesday, The Associated Press reported. A percentage of blame is likely to be placed on Stuart Hess for continuing to smoke despite knowing the dangers.

"Mr. Hess had it within his control to quit smoking, and quit smoking in time to avoid getting lung cancer," Phillip Morris attorney Kenneth Reilly said, according to the report. "It really wasn't impossible."

Of the $131 million the plaintiffs are asking for, $100 million of it are for punitive damages.

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