Philip Morris loses appeals in post-trial motions over negligence lawsuit filed by smoker

By Charmaine Little | Dec 9, 2018

ATLANTA — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit denied several appeals made by Philip Morris over a trial that awarded a woman damages for smoking-related diseases.

The jury of a lower court sided with Judith Berger, who sued Philip Morris for intentional and unintentional torts. Berger, described as a 40-year smoker, was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She sued for strict liability, negligence, fraudulent concealment, and conspiracy to fraudulently conceal, seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

She was awarded both for all of her claims, but Philip Morris filed a motion for a new trial, stating there was an inappropriate closing argument, and a renewed motion for judgement as a matter of law on each of the claims against it, citing federal preemption and due process arguments. The trial court denied each of these motions.

The appeals court affirmed the lower court’s ruling that denied Philip Morris a new trial and motion for judgement as a matter of law on all claims.

The appeals court pointed out that Berger had started smoking at a young age due to peer pressure. The jury heard evidence that Berger was exposed to ads that made it seem that smoking was hardly unhealthy. That along with her unawareness of the addictive potential of nicotine and the assumption that the Surgeon General’s warning was almost nothing more than speculation, the appeals court said it was safe for the jury to assume there was a chance Berger would have never started smoking if she knew the real dangers of it.

“As we have explained, Mrs. Berger presented ample evidence to support an inference of detrimental reliance, and Philip Morris presented no counterbalancing evidence,” the court said. Considering this, the district court should not have granted Philip Morris’s alternative motion for a new trial for international tort claims, the appeals court said.

District Judge Wright wrote the opinion, published on Nov. 26. Circuit Judges Charles R. Wilson and Kevin C. Newsom agreed.

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