Woman sues tobacco companies for mom's death, wins appeal

By Charmaine Little | Sep 13, 2018

Cheryl Searcy filed the lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Phillip Morris, alleging the companies’ concealed the addictive nature of cigarettes, which led to the death of her mother, Carol Lasard.  

ATLANTA –– Two tobacco companies lost a bid to reverse a multi-million dollar judgment against them over a woman's death from smoking.

On Sept. 5, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court’s ruling in favor of a woman who sued R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Philip Morris over her mother’s death from smoking cigarettes.

Circuit Judge Julie Carnes authored the opinion. Circuit Judges Beverly Martin and R. Lanier Anderson concurred.

Cheryl Searcy filed the lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Phillip Morris, alleging the companies’ concealed the addictive nature of cigarettes, which led to the death of her mother, Carol Lasard. 

Lasard died of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Lasard smoked cigarettes since she was 15. 

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida ruled in favor of Searcy and awarded $6 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in total punitive damages.

On appeal, the tobacco companies argued the the lower court infringed on its Seventh Amendment rights and due process when the court told the jury the alleged torts in the suit were proven in past cases. 

The companies also disagreed with the damages award considering the jury found Lasard to be 40 percent responsible. 

In the 48-page opinion, the panel of judges noted the Florida Supreme Court ruled findings in tobacco litigation can be used in similar cases and the jury is not required to re-evaluate those findings. 

Those findings, dating back to the 1994 Engle class action, show smoking cigarettes causes sicknesses such as lung cancer and the nicotine in cigarettes is addictive. 

For this case, Searcy was able to prove that her mother relied on the companies' advertisements that low-tar/low-nicotine cigarettes were healthier than other types of cigarettes. ,

In addition, the appellete court said, Searcy did not waive her right to damages in light of Lasard’s comparative fault and liability. But the court did determine the amounts were excessive and amended the award to $1 million in compensatory damages and $1.67 million in punitive damages.

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Florida Supreme Court U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit Miami Florida Division

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