MIAMI - Jurors on Friday hit cigarette maker Philp Morris with a $2.5 million damage award to the family of Ulysee Holliman finding the company liable for Holliman’s death from lung cancer in 1993.
The verdict awarded to Ruby Holliman, Ulysee Holliman’s widow, was made for pain, suffering and loss. Ruby Holliman had originally asked the jury for $8 million in damages.
The jury decided the tobacco company was 50 percent at fault for what happened and Holliman also 50 percent to blame for his fatal illness.
Punitive damages to punish the company will be decided at a hearing on Monday.
The trial in the Dade County Court is being streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.
The trial was to decide if Holliman would be allowed to join a class of Florida residents who sued the tobacco companies in 1994.
Plaintiff attorneys argued that Holliman was addicted to nicotine and despite attempts to quit smoking was unable to.
The suit alleged that Philip Morris had engaged in a campaign of deception by deliberately withholding or denying information that cigarette smoking was harmful to health and participated in a conspiracy with other tobacco companies to protect the sales of their cigarette products.
Attorneys defending Philip Morris maintained Holliman knew the dangers of smoking and continued smoking anyway, exercising free choice to smoke a legally purchased product, and so bore personal responsibility for his own actions.
The jury found Holliman had not relied to his detriment on a statement from Philip Morris which concealed or omitted information concerning the health effects or addictive nature of smoking. However the jury also found the addictive nature of smoking was the legal cause of his death.
Over the course of the two-week trial, defense attorneys and those for the plaintiff called their own expert witnesses. Family members told the jury Holliman had smoked from the 1960s on at times two packs a day and three packs during times when family troubles occurred. According to the testimony, Holliman did not make an attempt to quit smoking until the 1980s, but made 20 attempts to quit, asking his wife to help him and chewing gum as a substitute. He would resume smoking usually after three or four days.
Plaintiff attorneys presented an inter-company document that touted cigarette smoking as a stress reliever. They also produced a tobacco historian who recounted a meeting among top tobacco company officials held at the Plaza Hotel in New York in 1953 in which the officials agreed to cooperate to attempt to suppress the emerging body of evidence that smoking was dangerous.
Television advertisements from the 1960s and '70s were exhibited during the trial that portrayed smoking as manly and glamorous, as well as competing public service spots starting in the 1970s that warned people about the dangers of smoking.
Defense attorneys said the industry scaled back its advertising of cigarettes on television voluntarily. Attorneys for the plaintiff countered the tobacco companies had simply shifted advertising to different venues, billboards and sponsoring sports events like the Formula 1 car race.
The defense attorneys never contended smoking wasn’t dangerous, but said it was a legal right to smoke and a decision that an individual was responsible to make for themselves.
A witness for the defense Daphne Dorce, a Palm Beach psychologist and addiction specialist, said Holliman only met two of 11 recognized requirements for addiction, cravings and the need for more nicotine to get the same effect. She said Holliman did not meet the legal status of addiction.
However, a witness for the plaintiff, Dr. David Drobes, a researcher with the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, said Holliman was addicted.
Attorneys characterized it as the “battle of the experts.”
Defense attorneys included Walter Cofer with the Kansas City law firm of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, as well as Robert Vaughan with the Fort Lauderdale firm of Kim Vaughan Lerner.
The plaintiff was represented by Eric Rosen with the Fort Lauderdale law firm of Kelley Uustal.
Judge Jose Rodriguez of the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida presided.