Florida Supreme Court takes up multimillion-dollar tobacco lawsuit


  • Photo by Lindsay Fox
After an appeals court ordered a new trial in September, a battle about a $7.1 million verdict against cigarette maker Philip Morris USA has gone to the Florida Supreme Court.

Attorneys for Michael Gentile, whose wife Brenda died of lung cancer after smoking for more than 30 years, have filed a notice that is a first step in asking the Supreme Court to take up the case, according to documents posted on the court’s website Monday.

Michael Gentile filed the wrongful-death lawsuit on May 12, 2015, against Philip Morris after the death of his wife, who primarily smoked Virginia Slims, a Philip Morris product, according to the September ruling by a panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal. The lawsuit raised claims of strict liability, negligence and fraud, which related to allegations that the cigarette maker concealed the harm of smoking.

A Palm Beach County jury sided with Gentile and awarded $7.1 million in compensatory damages. But Philip Morris argued that Gentile had not proven fraud occurred in the 12 years before the lawsuit was filed, as is required by state law. The appeals-court panel agreed, pointing to admissions by Philip Morris as early as 1999 that cigarettes were highly addictive and that smokers should not assume “light” and “ultra-light” brands, such as the cigarettes smoked by Brenda Gentile, were safe. The appeals court overturned the $7.1 million verdict and sent the case back for a new trial.

“PM (Philip Morris) argues that the (circuit) court improperly denied its motion for directed verdict on its fraud-based claims because plaintiff failed to prove PM made a fraudulent statement or omission about the safety of its light or low-tar cigarettes after May 12, 2003,” the appeals-court ruling said. “PM maintains that it expressly disclaimed any misrepresentation that light or low-tar cigarettes were safer or less addictive than its full-flavored cigarettes prior to the (12-year) repose period. We agree.”

As is common, the notice filed at the Supreme Court does not detail the arguments that Gentile’s attorneys will make.

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