Marketing Cigarettes to Teens Lands a Punitive Damages Award of 20 Million Dollars and Fourteen Cents
Marketing cigarettes to teenagers in order to hook them as customers for life is seen by many as a particularly despicable way of doing business. To hammer this point home, the jury in Judith Berger v. Philip Morris USA Inc. awarded the plaintiff not only about $7 million in damages for her smoking-related illness (COPD), but also leveled a punitive damages award against Philip Morris in the amount of $20,760,000.14. The fourteen cents at the end reflects the age at which Ms. Berger started smoking and symbolizes the jury’s outrage at the tobacco company’s conduct.
In addition to marketing to teens, the plaintiff proved that Philip Morris actively marketed light and low-tar cigarettes as safer, despite evidence that showed the tobacco giant knew full well that they weren’t. This conduct also factored significantly into the jury’s multi-million dollar punitive damages verdict.
The court in Berger also decided an important issue regarding what are known as Engle cases. Back in 2000, a Florida court in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc. awarded $145 Billion in a class action lawsuit against big tobacco, but the Florida Supreme Court decertified the class, claiming it was too diverse, requiring the more than 4,000 class members to file individual lawsuits to recover damages. To be successful in these cases, the plaintiffs must prove that their illness manifested itself by November 21, 1996, the date when the class was first certified. A lot of cases have been litigating just what it means for an illness to “manifest.” The Berger court held that an illness is manifest when it becomes symptomatic and therefore diagnosable, but not that it has to have been diagnosed by the 1996 date.