A Boca Raton widow has won $4 million from tobacco giants R.J. Reynolds and Phillip Morris over the death of her husband.
In the two-week Palm Beach County Circuit Court jury trial that ended late Friday, Debbie Perrotto’s attorneys claimed the cigarette companies used deceptive advertising — such as saying filtered cigarettes are safer than unfiltered — and hid cigarettes’ health effects. As a result, her husband, Nicholas, got addicted without knowing the downsides of smoking, they said.
Nicholas Perrotto was 56 when he died of lung cancer in September 1996.
When Debbie Perrotto will see the money is unknown. The tobacco companies plan to appeal the decision, so it could be several years.
The Perrotto case was the 10th tobacco trial in Palm Beach County — and one of nearly 80 in Florida — since the state Supreme Court in 2006 threw out a $145 billion jury verdict in a 1994 Miami-Dade County class-action lawsuit against tobacco firms.
The high court ruled that each smoker or family member had to prove their damages in separate trials, but it also said they could use the factual findings the Miami-Dade jury made when it decided the 1994 lawsuit. That means those who were members of the original class don’t have to prove that smoking cigarettes causes certain diseases or that manufacturers hid the dangers of smoking.
In lawsuits since that ruling, tobacco company lawyers usually argue that smokers who kept puffing while so many others quit did so because they enjoy it, said Scott Schlesinger, one of the Perrotto’s attorneys.
“If you teach the jury about what really happened (deceptive cigarette ads), then they agree” that the tobacco companies were deceptive, Schlesinger said.
In June, a jury awarded $20 million to 63-year-old Delray Beach resident Gwen Odom in a lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds over the smoking-related illness that killed her 58-year-old mother in 1993. R.J. Reynolds has appealed that decision.
In September 2013, a jury awarded $3.82 million to 75-year-old Boca widow Kathleen Gafney Hanners in a case against R.J. Reynolds and another tobacco company, Lorillard.
In May 2013, a jury awarded $1.2 million to 91-year-old Delray widower David Cohen in a case against R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard and Liggett, another tobacco company.
At least 5,000 similar cases are awaiting trial across Florida.
In about three-quarters of these cases, the smokers or their survivors have beat the tobacco companies, studies reveal. In all of those cases, tobacco companies appealed the verdicts.ing statewide.