Three Cigarette Makers Ordered to Pay $37.5 Million to Ex-Smoker, Wife

A jury on Tuesday ordered three cigarette makers to pay $37.5 million in damages to a lawyer who lost his tongue to cancer.

John Lukacs blamed his 30 years of smoking up to three packs a day for his oral and bladder cancer. Philip Morris, Brown & Williamson and Liggett Group claimed his 20 cancer-free years after he quit smoking pointed to another cause.

The jury deliberated less than eight hours before awarding Lukacs and his wife the full compensatory damages suggested by his attorneys.

Philip Gerson, one of Lukacs' lawyers, said the 76-year-old Miami real estate lawyer and former Navy fighter pilot won't live long enough to see any of the money. His doctors have given him seven months to live.

The two-week trial covered medical expenses as well as pain and suffering for Lukacs and his wife, Yolanda. It was an outgrowth of a $145 billion punitive damage award issued in a class-action suit covering all sick Florida smokers two years ago.

William Ohlemeyer, associate general counsel of Philip Morris Cos., said Lukacs' case should not have gone to trial while the tobacco industry appeals the earlier verdict.

"I think [the trial] was a waste of time and effort and judicial resources," Ohlemeyer said.

Jeff Raborn, Brown & Williamson's attorney, said Tuesday's verdict wasn't surprising considering the jury had to accept "the faulty findings" of the previous jury. Calls to Liggett were not immediately returned.

After the punitive verdict, individual plaintiffs were allowed to seek compensatory damages on their own. So far, Lukacs' claim is the only one approved for trial by a state appeals court, which cited his "imminent death."

Lukacs sued cigarette makers based on the brands he smoked, including free cigarettes in his military rations, until he quit in 1971 or 1972. He was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 1991 and oral cancer in 1997.

The jury split liability among Liggett at 50 percent, Philip Morris and Brown & Williamson at 22.5 percent each, and Lukacs at 5 percent.