A Florida jury made history this month when it decided that a gay man was due $157 million from two of the biggest tobacco giants in the industry for the 2018 death of his spouse. It’s the first wrongful death case by a same-sex spouse of its kind.
The victim developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in 1996. He died from the disease last year. He’d been a smoker since he was only 15 years old, like many others in his generation. He was 74 when he died.
The jury laid the blame for the man’s death on cigarette manufacturers R.J. Reynolds and Phillip Morris because the victim had used both brands over the years. They faulted the companies for what they said was purposeful manipulation of the nicotine levels in cigarettes to make them more addictive and deliberate marketing that targeted adolescents.
Back in the 1950s, when the victim started smoking, the dangers of cigarettes weren’t well-known by the majority of the public. In addition, cigarette companies enjoyed much broader latitude when it came to advertising their products than they had in subsequent decades.
The award is significant in both its size and nature. Florida law doesn’t allow a surviving spouse to file a wrongful death claim unless they were married before the deceased got sick. However, same-sex marriages weren’t valid in Florida until they became legal on a federal level in 2015. This couple married just days afterward — but they had been together for more than 35 years.
The attorney for the plaintiff argued that the surviving spouse should be entitled to no less than any heterosexual couple — and the jury agreed. As the attorney said, “And so, the absence of any prejudice against their same-sex relationship is what makes the verdict and the outcome extra meaningful.”
If your loved one died due to the wrongful actions of another, find out more about what possibilities you have to seek justice and compensation.