Smoker with COPD Wins $12.5M Against Tobacco Companies

Posted September 6, 2013 in Jury Awards Personal Injury by

Cigarette smoke in the shape of a skull

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A former chronic smoker who developed the lung condition COPD was awarded $12.5 million by a Florida jury in his lawsuit against Philip Morris and Liggett Group.

John Rizzuto, 66, began smoking when he was 13 years old. He smoked for forty years, until he was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

COPD, which can include emphysema and chronic bronchitis, blocks air flow and makes it difficult to breathe.

COPD can, but does not necessarily, lead to more serious damage like lung cancer.

His lawsuit accused the two tobacco companies of marketing the addictive nicotine products to teens without disclosing health risks.

Rizzuto’s attorney Brent Bigger, showed the jury cigarette ads that featured popular actors posing while engaged in the once-glamorous habit. He argued Rizzuto tried to quit but could not.

An attorney for Philip Morris, William Geraghty, told the jury that Rizzuto knew from the first puff he took that smoking had risks and that he could have quit at any time. He challenged Rizzuto for not asking doctors to help him quit or trying other methods like the nicotine patch or Nicorette gum.

Attorney Brent Bigger headshot

Attorney Brent Bigger

After a two-week trial in which Rizzuto was grilled on the stand for several emotional hours, the jury awarded him $2.55 million for past and future medical bills and $10 million in punitive damages.

Rizzuto teared up when the verdict was read. One of the jurors also held back tears.

“We’re just grateful the jury heard our evidence and delivered a fair and just verdict for a great man,” said Bigger.

Rizzuto is a retired mail carrier and is a widow. During the trial, he testified that because of his illness he is not able to walk his dog, get involved in his grandchildren’s baseball games or do chores around the house. He said he was worried he would become a burden on his family if he could no longer care for himself.

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