In what a dissenting justice called a “fundamental shift,” the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday issued a ruling that likely will make it harder for many plaintiffs suing tobacco companies about smoking-related illnesses.

Florida Appeals Court Upholds Verdict Against Virginia Cigarette Maker

A state appeals court Wednesday upheld a $2.5 million verdict against cigarette maker Philip Morris USA in a lawsuit filed by the family of a man who started smoking as a teenager and died of lung cancer at age 57.
A $2.5 million verdict against cigarette maker Philip Morris USA has been upheld in court. File Photo

A state appeals court Wednesday upheld a $2.5 million verdict against cigarette maker Philip Morris USA in a lawsuit filed by the family of a man who started smoking as a teenager and died of lung cancer at age 57.

A Miami-Dade County jury ruled in favor of the estate of Ulisee Holliman, at least in part based on allegations that Philip Morris and other tobacco companies concealed the health dangers of smoking and that Holliman relied on statements from the industry.

Philip Morris’ “theory of defense was that Holliman smoked because he enjoyed it and it helped him to manage stress, rather than because he was addicted to nicotine or because of anything the industry said about the health risks and addictive nature of cigarettes, and he had the ability to quit in time to avoid his lung cancer,” said Wednesday’s decision by a panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal.

In upholding the verdict, the appeals court pointed, in part, to testimony from Holliman’s daughter. Holliman died in 1993.

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“Upon our independent review of the record, we find sufficient evidence to establish that Holliman received, believed, and acted upon false and misleading statements by the tobacco companies regarding the health risks and addictiveness of cigarette smoking to his detriment,” said the 13-page decision, written by Judge Fleur Lobree and joined by Judges Edwin Scales and Eric Hendon.

“When viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, his daughter’s testimony reflected that Holliman saw a number of false and misleading statements about dangers associated with smoking on various television programs once he became a regular smoker, and that he expressed his belief after watching at least one such program that cigarettes were not bad for you. This evidence allowed for a reasonable conclusion that Holliman continued to smoke because he was misled by the tobacco companies into believing that smoking was not harmful to his health at least until the mid-1980s, when he received the first personal warnings about the risks associated with smoking and made his first attempts to quit,” the court said.

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