FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The family of a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer and COPD was awarded $37 million in damages against two major cigarette companies in a Broward courtroom last week.
Rita Mahfuz, who had smoked multiple packs of cigarettes a day for 30 years, died in 1999 at the age of 53. She finally quit cigarettes after being diagnosed with cancer and having a lung removed seven years earlier.
The jury awarded the Mahfuz family $12 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages against Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds Company.
Attorneys for Mahfuz's husband, Richard, argued Rita had died from complications from her addiction to cigarettes that began when she was in her teens.
“Rita fell into the tobacco industry’s trap." said attorney Steven J. Hammer of the Schlesinger Law Firm. "She was addicted as a child and became hooked on the nicotine in cigarettes.”
During the trial, Mahfuz's continued addiction was blamed on her being fooled by the advertising campaigns of cigarette companies that claimed smoking filtered brands were safer and healthier options.
“She was a success story to the tobacco industry." said attorney Jonathan Gdanski. "They were happy to profit from her while she was alive but argued their products were not responsible for her addiction or death.”