As a teen, Jacqueline Miller got hooked. Smoking Old Gold Cigarettes with her friends turned into on a two-pack a day habit until she died at age 64 from lung cancer.
A wrongful death lawsuit filed by Miller’s daughter in Mrozek v. Lorillard Tobacco Company, was one of 11 Florida lawsuits filed by families of deceased or sick smokers that the nation’s big tobacco companies challenged; the companies asked the United States Supreme Court to hear their appeals. On June 9th, the high court refused to review the appeals, which means the judgments – including the one for Jacqueline Miller’s family – will stand.
Terrell Hogan’s tobacco disease team – three were part of the legal team that successfully represented the State of Florida in an historic settlement against cigarette manufacturers in 1997 – tried Ms. Miller’s case in Duval County. It resulted in a $17 million verdict on March 2, 2011; $6 million in compensatory damages and $11.3 million in punitive damages. At issue: the wrongful death of Jacqueline Miller and Lorillard’s concealment of the health dangers and addictiveness of smoking that it knew about for decades.
“She was a model Lorillard customer,” said attorney Bruce Anderson, a partner and member of Terrell Hogan’s tobacco trial team. “She started with Old Golds, moved to Kents, and then to Max cigarettes because she liked their long length and believed Lorillard’s claims they were healthier,” he said.
The power of cigarette advertising was the focus of key evidence at trial. Our trial team revealed ads Jacqueline saw during the 50’s including a TV commercial for the cigarettes she smoked – Kent – claiming its filters offered “the greatest health protection you can get from a cigarette.”
From the 1950’s to the 1990’s, cigarette companies and their public relations firms would falsely claim “more research is needed, it isn’t proven that cigarette smoking is addictive or causes diseases like lung cancer – the very disease that claimed Jacqueline Miller’s life,” said Terrell Hogan partner and tobacco trial team member Angelo Patacca. The tobacco companies engaged in public relations campaigns that, for 40 years, assured the public that cigarettes were safe. It wasn’t until the year 2000 that tobacco companies finally admitted smoking is addictive and causes disease.
Today, we can all say we know cigarette smoking is harmful and addictive, but when Jackie Miller was smoking, warning labels – stating cigarette smoking may be hazardous to your health – weren’t on cigarette packs until 1966. “She didn’t believe the label; she believed the tobacco industry and not the government,” Bruce Anderson said. Many others felt the same.
But the evidence proved that Lorillard concealed from Ms. Miller and the rest of the American public what the company knew for decades about the health risks and addictiveness of smoking.
“For three years, Lorillard has refused to acknowledge and accept responsibility for the jury’s decision that its conduct was reprehensible and was the legal cause of Ms. Miller’s death,” said Evan Yegelwel, Terrell Hogan trial team member and partner. “The jury’s decision has been reviewed by the trial court and now three separate appellate courts have refused to overturn the judgment holding Lorillard accountable.”
Lorillard appealed the judgment to the First District Court of Appeal. After the unsuccessful appeal, Lorillard sought review in both the Florida Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court. On Monday, the high court put an end to the review process.
Jackie’s son and two daughters lost her to cigarette addiction nearly 20 years ago. While no amount of money can bring her back, there’s finally justice for her now.
The Mrozek case was originally part of the Engle v. Liggett Group Inc. class action lawsuit that was filed against tobacco companies on behalf of all Florida smokers who suffered tobacco-related illnesses and deaths caused by the smokers’ addiction to nicotine. In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court allowed individual lawsuits to be pursued. In addition to Lorillard, Inc., other Florida verdicts against RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris USA will stand.