Florida Record

Monday, September 23, 2019

Case against Phillip Morris USA Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company brought by widow to be re-tried

By Dee Thompson | Sep 14, 2017

WEST PALM BEACH — The Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal has sided with Philip Morris USA Inc. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in a case involving a widow who had won $13 million in a lawsuit that claimed her husband died due to the addictive nature of cigarettes.

The case, which was brought by Rose Pollari, personal representative of the estate of Paul Pollari, stems from a case in which Pollari was suing the tobacco companies, seeking $30 million in damages because Pollari claimed that her husband’s addiction to smoking and death from lung cancer were the result of false advertising by the tobacco companies, according to the Law Offices of Jacoby & Meyers. Her husband died of lung cancer in 1994 after decades of smoking. 

Rose Pollari’s case was tried in 2015 and she was awarded $3 million in punitive damages and $10 million in compensatory damages.

The jury found in that 2015 ruling that Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds were each responsible for 42.5 percent of the smoking habits of Paul Pollari because of their advertising of cigarettes, but Paul Pollari himself was responsible for 15 percent of his smoking habit. 

In the 1990s, stricter regulations were put into place regarding the advertising of cigarettes. However, Rose Pollari's attorneys argued that cigarette sales have still increased despite those measures.

“Although litigation against tobacco companies began as long ago as the 1950s, evidence began snowballing against cigarettes and the tactics used to market them in the 1990s," according to Jacoby & Meyers. "In 1993, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defined environmental tobacco smoke as a known human carcinogen. The agency officially established the fact that secondhand smoke in the environment causes lung cancer in nonsmoking adults as well as heart and lung problems in children exposed to smoke.”

The appeals court ruled that the U.S. Surgeon General’s reports, which were admitted into evidence in Rose Pollari’s case, were actually inadmissible hearsay, noting in its August 30 ruling that “the reports did not constitute original research performed by the Office of the Surgeon General; rather, they summarized and compiled a mix of information, opinion and advocacy from outside sources.”

Pollari’s attorneys argued that the Surgeon General reports were public records and therefore should be allowed. The defense attorneys argued that since the authors of the reports couldn’t be cross-examined, the reports were hearsay. 

The court sided with the defendants and has been remanded the case to the lower court for a new trial. 

The Pollari case is one of the Engle lawsuits, which were spawned by a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision to break up a class-action suit against tobacco companies. The court ruled that individuals could still pursue claims because cigarettes are an addictive and dangerous product. The plaintiffs in the lawsuits seek to prove that there’s a causal relationship between smoking addiction and smoking-related diseases.

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Organizations in this Story

Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal Florida Supreme Court Philip Morris USA R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company