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Court Upholds $5M Award To Sick Smoker

Stethoscope and gavel against a white backdrop.
Wikimedia Commons
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A South Florida appeals court Wednesday upheld a verdict that calls for Philip Morris USA to pay $5 million to a man who suffers heart disease caused by smoking --- but it shielded the cigarette maker from potentially paying punitive damages.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal rejected arguments that the tobacco company should receive a new trial because an attorney for Antonio Cuculino made improper arguments in circuit court.

A Miami-Dade County jury awarded $12.5 million in damages to Cuculino, but said he was 60 percent at fault and Philip Morris was 40 percent at fault. That meant the tobacco company would have to pay $5 million to Cuculino, who suffered a heart attack in 1994 at age 49 and later underwent a series of procedures including angioplasty and the placement of three stents into his arteries, according to the ruling.

A three-judge panel of the court, however, rejected Cuculino's arguments that he should be able to receive punitive damages, which can substantially increase the amount of money awarded.

The case is one of thousands filed against tobacco companies in Florida by sick smokers or their surviving relatives. The cases, known as Engle progeny cases, have flooded courts since the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 established critical findings about the health dangers of smoking and misrepresentation by cigarette makers.