(John Disney/Daily Report)
A brother and sister were awarded $5 million by a Fort Lauderdale jury for the cancer death of their mother, a longtime smoker.
Georgia Cheeley, 57, died in January 1997, nine months after she was diagnosed with lung cancer.
On Friday, a Broward Circuit Court jury awarded $2 million in punitive damages to her surviving children, Willie and Iola Cheeley, both of Fort Lauderdale. Three days earlier, the same jury awarded the siblings a total of $3 million for loss of parental companionship, pain and suffering.
The mother was a lifelong smoker of Pall Mall Red, a longer unfiltered cigarette made by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
“She was a single mom who started smoking at age 12 and got pregnant with her first kid at 14,” said Alex Alvarez of the Alvarez Law Firm in Coral Gables. “By 17, her husband left her, and she brought up two kids, just her and her mother.”
The trial before Circuit Judge Jack Tuter lasted more than three weeks. Alvarez said the jury was the most educated panel he’s had in an Engle progeny case, named for a disbanded statewide class action against the major tobacco companies.
“The jury was out a very long time, five days in phase one and one day in phase two. Five of the six jurors had college degrees, and four had master’s degrees,” Alvarez said.
The Cheeleys called two expert witnesses—Robert Proctor, a Stanford University historian who detailed tactics used by the tobacco industry to mislead the public and consumers about illnesses caused by smoking, and Luis Villa, a Miami oncologist and pathologist who said smoking caused Cheeley’s cancer.
The children recounted how Cheeley smoked up to two packs a day, Alvarez said.
“She would get up in the middle of the night to smoke. She was a chain smoker,” he said.
Alvarez’s co-counsel was Gary Paige of Gordon & Doner in Davie.
Reynolds was represented by King & Spalding attorneys Jeff Furr of Charlotte, N.C., and Frank Bayuk of Atlanta. Reynolds had no comment on the verdict.