A Florida appeals court won’t let Philip Morris USA Inc. escape a $2.5 million verdict won by the daughter of a smoker who alleged the cigarette maker was responsible for her father’s death, saying trial evidence was enough for the jury to conclude the man relied on the company’s advertising to his detriment.
The panel said Sabrina Cuddihee had specifically identified what advertisements her father, Gil Cuddihee, had seen and engaged with, and how he relied on those advertisements in his decision to switch to a “lighter cigarette” for health reasons.
Gil Cuddihee began smoking when he was 14, and primarily smoked Philip Morris brands. He developed lung cancer and died at the age of 41, and his estate, currently represented by his daughter, sued, eventually winning a $2.5 million verdict against Philip Morris, with the jury finding Gil Cuddihee had been 35% at fault.
Philip Morris then moved for a directed verdict, and that motion was denied, prompting the appeal, in which the company argued that there had not been sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude that Gil Cuddihee had relied on misrepresentations in its advertisements.
The panel said the estate directly connected Philip Morris’s statements with Gil Cuddihee’s decision to switch to a supposedly low-tar, less-addictive brand of cigarettes for health reasons.
Witnesses from his family testified that he switched to the low-tar Merits brand of cigarettes after developing a cough, and believed it to be a healthier brand based on Philip Morris’s advertisements.
In addition, Sabrina Cuddihee had testified that her father had quoted those advertisements nearly verbatim when talking about his decision to switch to what he believed was a safer cigarette.
Cuddihee’s case is one of thousands filed by members of the class decertified by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 in Engle v. Liggett Group Inc. The decision decertified the class and overturned a $145 billion verdict but allowed the individual plaintiffs to sue the tobacco companies independently and to use the Engle jury’s eight liability findings in their suits.