The case dated back to June 2015 when the firms filed suit on behalf of Louis E. Summerlin and his wife Joanna M. Summerlin, against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Philip Morris USA, Inc. and numerous companies who manufactured and sold asbestos-containing products with which Summerlin worked as a brake mechanic.
Before his death in October 2015, Mr. Summerlin gave sworn, videotaped testimony in the case, which was presented to the jury during trial. Mrs. Summerlin continued the action on behalf of herself and the Estate of Mr. Summerlin. Prior to trial, four companies against whom asbestos-related claims were brought settled the claims against them. The case proceeded to trial in September 2018 against Reynolds and Phillip Morris (the companies who manufactured and sold the cigarettes Mr. Summerlin smoked) as well as Hampden Automotive Sales Corporation (“Hampden”), a manufacturer of asbestos-containing brakes that Mr. Summerlin used in the late 1950s through early 1960s.
After a five-week trial, the jury deliberated for over 23 hours during the course of four days before rendering a verdict against Reynolds, the maker of the menthol cigarettes (Kool and Salem) that Summerlin smoked from the late 1950s through the mid-1980s. The jury found Reynolds liable on all 5 counts: breach of implied warranty of merchantability (defective design and inadequate warning); negligence (negligent design and failure to adequately warn) and fraud. The jury awarded $5.3 million for Mr. Summerlin’s pain and suffering, $3.5 million for Mrs. Summerlin’s “loss of consortium,” $4.3 in wrongful death damages, for a total of $13.1 million in compensatory damages. The jury also found that Reynolds was “grossly negligent” and acted “maliciously, willfully, wantonly or recklessly” in causing Mr. Summerlin’s lung cancer, and awarded $30 million in punitive damages. Although the jury found that Philip Morris and Hampden breached the implied warranty of merchantability in selling “defective” products, the jury determined that these breaches were not a “substantial contributing factor” in causing Mr. Summerlin’s lung cancer, resulting in a defense verdict in favor of these two companies.
The case was tried by Jerome H. Block, partner at Levy Konigsberg LLP, and Shepard Law founder Michael Shepard. The trial team also included Levy lawyers Robert Ellis and Amber Long and Shepard lawyers Michael McCann and Erika O’Donnell.
In April, Levy Konigsberg closed on a $117 million verdict and award against Johnson & Johnson and Imerys Talc America in a case that revolved around asbestos found in the defendants’ baby powder. Leaders In The Law reported on the verdict, which you can read here.