Jeffrey Sloman (Aixa Montero Holt)
The law firm representing a smoker who won a $5 million verdict said the award marks the first time a Florida jury has blamed cigarettes for heart disease.
Retired auto mechanic Antonio CuCulino, 69, of Ramrod Key, who was diagnosed with heart disease in 1994, brought suit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court after a landmark Florida Supreme Court decision decertifying a class action against tobacco companies while giving smokers a leg up in individual cases.
After a two-week trial before Miami-Dade Judge Jorge Cueto, the jury returned Friday with an compensatory award totaling $12.5 million. But the jury assigned 60 percent of the blame to CuCulino for failing to stop his 1½-pack-a-day smoking habit after being diagnosed with heart disease.
The jury found no basis for punitive damages against the primary defendant, Philip Morris USA Inc.
Attorneys Allan Kaiser and Jeffrey Sloman, partners at the Ferraro Law Firm in Miami, represented CuCulino.
Sloman said previous so-called Engle progeny cases have centered on lung or throat cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
CuCulino testified he was 8 when he smoked his first cigarette at Sacred Heart Elementary School in South Philadelphia in 1953. He mostly smoked Pall Mall cigarettes and Marlboros.
CuCulino said he was influenced by the glamorous depictions of smoking, especially by the actors and actresses of his teenage years.
A doctor told the auto mechanic to quit in 1989 because of hypertension, but he didn’t try to quit until well after his first heart attack in 1994.
From 1995 to 1999, CuCulino had four more serious cardiac events that resulted in two catheterizations and a quadruple bypass.
He now suffers daily angina and shortness of breath. He couldn’t quit smoking completely until 2009 after using nicotine inhalers, anti-depressants, hypnosis, acupuncture, laser therapy, group therapy and finally the anti-smoking drug Chantix over a three-year period.
“This poor guy went through everything and nothing worked,” Sloman said.
Philip Morris’ lead attorney, Kat Gallagher of Beck Redden in Houston, had no comment by deadline.
Brian May, a spokesman for Altria Group Inc., the parent of Philip Morris, had no comment.