The good news: C. Calvin Warriner III accomplished the seemingly impossible when he got a tobacco company to settle with an injured smoker.
The bad news: The settlement is worth just $100,000.
The amount accepted by Roslyn Marrazzo is peanuts compared with the Broward Circuit Court jury awards starting at $1.2 million in five lawsuits tried since February. Accounting for negligence attributed to smokers, the lower award works out to $600,000.
The cases stem from the Florida Supreme Court decision tossing a $145 billion class action verdict while allowing smokers to sue individually for damages.
Tobacco companies rarely settle. A number of attorneys asked about the settlement — Warriner included — said it was the only settlement they are aware of for a former class member.
Warriner, a partner at Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley in West Palm Beach, said he was “disappointed” by the settlement. Marrazzo is the daughter of Pasquale Charles Currao, who smoked primarily Liggett cigarettes starting at 12 in 1939 until he died of lung cancer in 1996. The New York native never quit.
“It was a good case, a very nice family with great stories about the smoker, about why he smoked and where and how he smoked and all the times he tried to quit and couldn’t,” Warriner said.
He said he didn’t have a figure in mind to propose to a jury, but it would have been a sure bet that the request would have been more than $100,000.
“There’s a track record in Broward County of multiple seven-figure awards on these cases,” Warriner said.
If tobacco companies settled all 350 pending Broward smoker cases for $100,000, the cost would be about $35 million.
Warriner sent a settlement offer to Liggett Group in March on behalf of Marrazzo with the case set for trial this year.
Ten days later, Liggett accepted the settlement.
Warriner said he didn’t know why Liggett settled.
Liggett’s New York attorney, Aaron Marks of Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman, declined to comment for this article.
Miami attorney Philip Gerson, who represents smokers and their families in a number of cases against cigarette makers but was not involved in the Marrazzo case, said Liggett is the only tobacco company that ever agrees to settle.
“They looked at it as a nuisance-value settlement, where the cost of trying would have greatly exceeded $100,000,” said Gerson of Gerson & Schwartz.
He said he hasn’t heard of any other settlements from the disbanded class action but has heard of other Liggett cases being “resolved” in the past.
Liggett Chairman Bennett S. LeBow broke ranks with other cigarette makers in 1996 when he acknowledged cigarette smoking is addictive and causes cancer. Liggett was the smallest of the five largest tobacco companies being sued by states and smokers.
Warriner said the Marrazzo settlement was all business for Liggett.
“The tobacco industry’s history and repeatedly announced intention to the court is to try every single one of their cases, and they will never settle,” Warriner said. “The Liggett people made a solid business decision at the expense of trying their case.”
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