The widow of a lifelong smoker has been awarded $1.53 million by a Palm Beach Circuit Court jury.
Beatrice Skolnick was awarded $2.55 million as personal representative of Leo Skolnick, a retired Boca Raton businessman who died at 75.
However, the jury found her husband 40 percent at fault and assigned 30 percent fault to each of two defendants — R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris USA Inc.
Leo Skolnick was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1992 and died a year later.
His was one of the so-called Engle progeny cases under a Florida Supreme Court decision disbanding a statewide smoker class action but allowing individual suits with anti-tobacco findings from the original Miami jury.
“Mr. Skolnick smoked, and smoking caused his cancer. But he trusted the word of tobacco companies who told him over the decades that tobacco was safe,” said Skolnick’s attorney, Scott Schlesinger of the Schlesinger Law Offices in Fort Lauderdale.
Skolnick began smoking Camel cigarettes at age 12, buying them from a corner grocer in his Brownsville neighborhood in Brooklyn. As an adult, he started a clothing business, selling his own line of women’s blouses under the brand name Jill Modes.
He moved to Florida in 1984 to retire in Boca Raton, where his wife still lives.
Lead plaintiff attorney, Steven J. Hammer, said Skolnick switched to filtered cigarettes Marlboro and Pall Mall after the cigarettes were being associated in news reports with respiratory diseases, “when tobacco companies advertised that filtered cigarettes were safer.”
Skolnick tried many ways to quit, include hypnosis, meditation and EST, but was unsuccessful.
Schlesinger and Hammer worked the case with partner Jonathan Gdanski and Brittany Chambers, an associate at the firm.
The defense tried unsuccessfully to link Skolnick’s lung cancer to other causes, including uranium found in industrial yards near his Brooklyn, New York, neighborhood and to a bout of colon cancer that he survived, Skolnick’s attorneys said.
George Lombardi of Winston & Strawn in Chicago represented Philip Morris. The tobacco companies had no comment on the verdict.
By answering no when asked whether Skolnick relied on tobacco companies’ representations after May 1982, jurors did not allow him to pursue punitive damages, Hammer said.
The four-week trial ended late Friday in Circuit Judge David F. Crow’s court.