Two firms must pay husband of a woman who died after smoking two packs a day for 36 years.
By Paul Pinkham
A Jacksonville jury awarded $40 million from two tobacco companies the past two days to the husband of a woman who died after smoking two packs of cigarettes a day for 36 years.
Jurors found in favor of Andy Allen with a $6 million verdict Wednesday. On Thursday they returned to determine punitive damages against R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris and awarded $34 million, even more than Allen's lawyer asked for.
Allen said through his lawyer that his wife hoped the lawsuit would change cigarette companies.
"We didn't do this for the money," the Jacksonville widower said. "My wife died before we got to trial, but she made me promise that we would see this thing through. ... She made our kids swear that they would never smoke."
Ed Sweda of the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University in Boston said the verdict is not good news for the tobacco companies' shareholders.
The project monitors tobacco cases in Florida resulting from the state Supreme Court's 2006 decision dismantling the Engle class action, in which a jury had awarded sick smokers $145 billion. The justices said in their ruling that smokers had a year to file individual claims using the Engle jury's factual findings.
The Allen verdict is the third largest of the 30 Engle trials that have gone the plaintiff's way and certainly will be appealed, Sweda said. In 13 other cases, Florida juries have sided with the tobacco companies.
Allen's wife, Patty, started smoking in 1966 when she was a 17-year-old high school student and was addicted within a few years, said Greg Prysock, one of her husband's attorneys at Morgan & Morgan. In 1996 she was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and tried patches, medication and even hypnosis to try to quit, Prysock said.
She finally quit in 2002 but by then her illness was in its end stages. She died that year at age 54.
Lawyers for the tobacco companies couldn't be reached Thursday.
Prysock said he and his co-counsel asked for $30 million in punitive damages. He said they presented evidence showing tobacco companies for years have had the technology to make nicotine-free cigarettes and patents to grow nicotine-free tobacco. "They continue to downplay the addiction," Prysock said. "I think that really hit home with the jury."
Prysock said Morgan & Morgan's fee is set by a contract with Allen that he is not at liberty to discuss.
A Sanford jury has awarded $13.3 million to the family of a woman who died when her pain patch failed, flooding her system with too much medicine.
Dozens of other suits have been filed nationally against drug giant Johnson & Johnson, alleging that its patches leaked and killed patients. But this week's judgment in Seminole Circuit Court was the biggest to date.
Susan Diane Hodgemire, 34, who lived near Apopka with her husband and five children, died June 8, 2002, a few days after she underwent back surgery.
She had placed two patches containing fentanyl, a powerful pain reliever, on her right arm as directed, attorney Joseph Taraska said. But the gel pack inside one or both patches began to leak, Taraska said, allowing the medicine to come into direct contact with her skin, where it was absorbed too quickly.
The patches, he said, are designed to release medicine over a 72-hour period.
In the middle of the night, Hodgemire began to vomit violently, lapsed into a coma, stopped breathing and died.
Jurors deliberated six hours before returning their verdict about 10:30 p.m. Tuesday. They blamed the woman's death on two Johnson & Johnson companies: patch manufacturer ALZA Corp. of Vacaville, Calif., and distributor Janssen LP of Titusville, N.J. They were ordered to pay 80 percent of the judgment.
The remainder is to be paid by Kurt Wood, a former physician assistant at Jewett Orthopaedic Clinic. The jury found him guilty of malpractice. When Hodgemire phoned for help in the middle of the night, Wood told her to take anti-nausea medicine and go back to bed, Taraska said. Wood's lawyer, Aram Megerian, said Hodgemire failed to tell the physician assistant how ill she was when she called.
Jewett was originally named in the suit, but Taraska said the case had been "resolved."
The patient's husband, Scott Hodgemire, said Wednesday that he was wowed by the judgment but is prepared to fight an appeal.
"The only real point here is there's a bunch of children who lost their mother. One doesn't even know his mother," Hodgemire said. That's a reference to the couple's youngest son, who was 2 at the time of her death. "No amount of money, no amount of litigation is ever going to bring her back."
Taraska said ALZA knew it was producing defective patches but kept doing so.
The brand of patch Hodgemire was wearing -- Duragesic -- has been recalled four times, said Greg Panico, a Janssen spokesman. The most recent recall, in February, was because of cuts found in the patch's drug reservoir, he said.
"We sympathize with the Hodgemire family over their loss," he said, "however, we disagree with the jury's verdict and are considerlnq our options for an appeal."
Hours after the Sanford jury returned its verdict, attorneys for a Chicago-area woman who died in 2004 began presenting their case against ALZA and Janssen to an Illinois jury.
Janice Dicosolo, a mother of three, died of a fentanyl overdose after wearing a Duragesic patch, said Eric Pearson, a Dallas lawyer whose firm represents her family.
It's the same firm that won a $5.5 million judgment against ALZA and Janssen in a West Palm Beach federal court last year in the death of Adam Hendelson, 28. He died in 2003 from a fentanyl overdose.
In 2006, a Houston jury awarded the family of another overdose victim more than $700,000.
Johnson & Johnson is fighting dozens of other pain-patch cases in courts across the country.
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