SOURCE: Schlesinger Law Offices

May 03, 2013 13:55 ET

Fort Lauderdale Law Firm Wins $2 Million Verdict Against Big Tobacco; Jury Finds Companies Responsible for Woman's Cancer Death

DELRAY BEACH, FL--(Marketwired - May 03, 2013) - A Palm Beach County jury on Thursday found three tobacco companies partly responsible for a grandmother's chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema and lung cancer death following years of suffering. They awarded more than $2 million in actual damages and for pain and suffering.

The plaintiffs, Delray Beach resident David Cohen, 92, and the estate of his wife, Helen Cohen, claimed Mrs. Cohen's smoking caused her chronic illness and eventual death. The jury found R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Lorillard Tobacco Company and Liggett Group LLC, mostly responsible for Mrs. Cohen's 2006 death. The jury also found that Ms. Cohen was addicted to the nicotine found in cigarettes.

"This was an important case to the Cohen family, to plaintiffs and to those smokers who have been mercilessly hooked to the addictive powers of nicotine -- which the cigarette companies early on denied existed, only to watch as millions of people couldn't kick the addiction," said Jonathan Gdanski, who along with Scott Schlesinger, Steven J. Hammer and Brittany Chambers of the Schlesinger Law Offices P.A., represented the family. "In fact, Mrs. Cohen tried and failed to quit many times. This was as much an indictment of nicotine addiction as it was the lethal effects of smoking."

Mrs. Cohen smoked for more than 50 years, but like so many other smokers, relied on the statements from tobacco companies that their products were safe. In 1994, she was diagnosed with COPD and placed on oxygen. By 2006, she was diagnosed with lung cancer, which had spread to her liver and other organs. The last year of her life was spent in hospitals, nursing homes and eventually hospice. Her untimely passing left her husband, children and grandchildren grief-stricken.

"The tobacco companies tried to assert that Mrs. Cohen lived to a ripe old age, but to her family, she was still a loving, vibrant and vital part of their lives," Hammer said. "If not for the illness caused by her smoking, she likely would have lived comfortably well past her untimely death. It was rewarding to help this family and Mr. Cohen in particular prevail in court."

The case almost stopped before it started. The defendants attempted in a pretrial motion to get the judge to dismiss the case in summary judgment. They claimed that Mrs. Cohen was diagnosed before May 5, 1990, a date set as the statute of limitations to bring a claim. Plaintiff counsel successfully argued that Mrs. Cohen didn't realize the implications of her diagnosis of COPD. Besides, counsel argued, any question of the statute of limitations should be for a jury to decide.

"We believed the jury understood that just because a reference to COPD was in her records doesn't mean Mrs. Cohen knew about it," Gdanski said.

The four-woman, two-man jury took less than five hours to return its verdict following the four-week trial before Judge Meenu Sasser in the 15th Judicial Circuit of Palm Beach County. In its verdict, the jury ignored the judge's orders to remove one plaintiff -- Philip Morris -- from deliberations. They assigned 15 percent responsibility to the company. The judge overrode their finding and sent them back. Jurors divided the figure equally among the remaining three companies.

The jury found Mrs. Cohen 40 percent responsible for her lung cancer and death, and R.J. Reynolds 30 percent responsible, Lorillard Tobacco Company 20 percent responsible, and Liggett Group LLC 10 percent responsible.

Jurors found total actual damages for the estate of Helen Cohen for medical and funeral expenses were $55,050.26.The jury also found total amount of damages sustained by plaintiff David Cohen for the loss of Mrs. Cohen's companionship and protection and for his pain and suffering as a result of her lung cancer and death was $2 million.

This is only the latest successful tobacco case for the Schlesinger law firm. The firm has handled numerous tobacco and cigarette smoking cases. Attorneys with the firm were also was part of the legal "dream team" that negotiated the landmark $11.3 billion settlement in 1997 for the state of Florida against five tobacco companies -- four of which were involved in this case.

ABOUT SCHLESINGER LAW OFFICES

Based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Schlesinger Law Offices is a personal injury law firm focused on holding big corporations and major manufacturers accountable for the harm they cause and the damage suffered by the general public through acts of negligence and misconduct. The firm is currently working on cases involving Big Tobacco, Accutane medication, defective medical devices, and defective drug products. For more information log on to www.schlesingerlawoffices.com 

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