Broward County

Jury to decide if Lake Worth widow gets $10M from cigarette-makers

A jury on Wednesday will begin deciding whether to order four tobacco giants to pay an 87-year-old Lake Worth widow $10 million for causing her husband's 1998 death from lung cancer.

In closing arguments Tuesday, an attorney for Mary Tullo detailed years of deceit by cigarette-makers, calling their decades-long misinformation campaign "unconscionable."

"They put a message out there: Keep smoking. It's O.K. There's no health risks and if there is any we'll remove them," attorney Steven Hammer told the jury. "It's sad, because in the United States, I guess it's O.K. to lie to your consumers."

Dominick Tullo paid the "ultimate price" for the companies' decision to put profit over people's health, he said. In addition to the $10 million for pain and suffering, Hammer is also asking the jury to find that the companies acted recklessly. That would set the stage for a second trial on punitive damages, where the amount awarded could skyrocket.

A lawyer for Philip Morris countered that cigarette-makers can't be blamed for Tullo's death.

While they don't dispute that smoking caused Tullo's lung cancer, attorney Kathleen Gallagher said there is no evidence Tullo knew of efforts by tobacco companies to minimize the dangers of smoking. But, she said, there is ample evidence Tullo read about surgeon general reports linking smoking with lung cancer and was well aware of the risks.

"Mr. Tullo made the decision to continue to smoke and he is the one responsible for that decision," she said.

Attorneys representing R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard and Liggett Group will address the jury this morning. Then, deliberations will begin.

Tullo's case is one of 8,000 pending statewide against cigarette-makers. All were filed after the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 threw out a $145 billion jury award in a 1994 class-action suit. It ruled that smokers or their families had to prove their unique damages in separate lawsuits. Of the 40 cases that have gone to trial, cigarette-makers have lost 26.