A Florida state jury found R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris USA., Inc., liable on Oct. 6, 2015 for the death of Margate, Florida resident Salvatore “Sal” Marchese. In finding the tobacco companies liable, the jury awarded $1 million in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages to Mr. Marchese’s family. The punitive damages were $250,000 each to R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris.
Motley Rice LLC, the law firm behind the landmark Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement, represented the plaintiff, together with co-counsel Howard Acosta Law Offices and Kent Whittemore of the Whittemore Law Group.
Sal passed away from lung cancer in 2004, just nine days short of his 46th wedding anniversary. Before retiring and moving to Florida, Sal, a former brick mason, worked for his father in the family’s construction business, Marchese and Sons, along with his four brothers.
Influenced by the youth-targeted cigarette campaigns of the day, Sal began smoking at the age of 13 and became addicted by age 16, smoking several packs a day for the rest of his life. He suffered from COPD for years before being diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004. In passing, he left behind his wife, Gertrude Marchese, and three grown children.
“I commend the jury for its decision finding R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris liable and punishing them for concealing the deadly and addictive nature of cigarettes for more than four decades from their customers,” said Motley Rice attorney Lance Oliver. “Reynolds and Philip Morris put profits above the health and welfare of their customers. The jury’s verdict sends a clear message: putting profits above people and lying to your customers is never okay. If a company engages in this type of conduct, there are consequences. This verdict is the result of my client’s hard-fought quest for justice for her husband Sal Marchese.”
Sal’s case is one of the thousands of suits filed against tobacco companies following the 2006 landmark ruling of Engle v. Ligget Group Inc. Though the Engle class was decertified, class members were permitted to rely on the case’s findings in filing their own suits. Among other findings, the Engle decision concluded that tobacco companies willingly hid the dangers of smoking and that smoking can cause a number of diseases.
Motley Rice tobacco attorneys Lance Oliver, Michael J. Pendell, James W. Ledlie and Kristen M. Hermiz were trial counsel for the plaintiff. The case is Marchese v. Philip Morris, case number 2013-cv-002849, in the 17th Judicial Circuit of Florida.
*Note: This verdict was subsequently reduced for comparative fault to $450,000 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages from Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds and is now on appeal.