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Appeals Court Backs New Trial In Sick Smoker Case

pack of cigarettes
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A state appeals court ruled Wednesday that some tobacco companies should receive a new trial in a case involving a woman who suffered smoking-related illnesses --- but it also overturned a verdict in favor of cigarette maker Philip Morris USA.

The ruling came in a Palm Beach County lawsuit filed by David Cohen, whose wife, Helen, died after suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer, according to the ruling by a panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal.

A jury awarded slightly more than $2 million in damages in the case, which also included as defendants R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Lorillard Tobacco Co., Liggett Group, LLC, and Vector Group, Ltd., Inc.

A trial judge issued what is known as a "directed verdict" in favor of Philip Morris, which argued the evidence failed to prove that its products caused Helen Cohen's illnesses.

The judge also ordered a new trial for the other tobacco companies because of improper statements by a plaintiff's attorney during closing arguments.

Those rulings led to Wednesday's 12-page ruling by the appeals court. That ruling upheld the judge's decision to order a new trial but also overturned the directed verdict in favor of Philip Morris.

"As such, Philip Morris was not entitled to a directed verdict on the element of causation simply because the plaintiff's experts were unable to say that Helen would not have developed her fatal diseases if she had not smoked Philip Morris cigarettes or that Helen would have developed her fatal diseases if she had smoked only Philip Morris cigarettes," said the ruling, written by appeals-court Chief Judge Cory Ciklin and joined by judges Jonathan Gerber and Burton Conner.

The lawsuit is one of thousands linked to a 2006 Florida Supreme Court ruling that established critical findings about the health dangers of smoking and misrepresentation by cigarette makers.