Tampa jury awards amputee $17.3 million in tobacco lawsuit

Published Jan. 24, 2015

TAMPA — Donna Brown of Jacksonville started smoking cigarettes in high school and continued for 47 years, even after peripheral vascular disease forced amputation of both legs.

She tried to quit but couldn't.

This week, a Tampa jury decided tobacco giant Philip Morris USA owes the 64-year-old woman nearly $17.3 million for causing her disease and for hiding facts about the perils and addictive nature of cigarettes.

"The jury recognized that every person has a right not to be hurt by the careless, intentional misconduct of another, and Donna was hurt very badly by Philip Morris' reckless and intentional misconduct," attorney Nathan Finch said Friday.

The jury found Brown 45 percent responsible for her condition and put the rest of the blame on Philip Morris, awarding her $9 million in punitive damages and nearly $8.3 million in compensatory damages. The company's net worth is $3.6 billion, court records state.

Multimillion-dollar awards have become common in tobacco cases, and last year a Pensacola jury decreed that a widow deserved $40.6 billion after her husband died of cancer at 36.

Brown, the Jacksonville woman, smoked Marlboro and Marlboro Light, made by Philip Morris, court papers state. If those weren't available, she chose Winston, made by R.J. Reynolds, also named in her lawsuit.

Finch said the Reynolds case was resolved before trial but he could not discuss specifics.

Philip Morris attorneys, in court papers, said Brown was aware of the risks and could have quit, noting that both her mother and sister had done so.

"In 1992, (Brown's) doctor specifically warned her to quit smoking and that continued smoking would lead to the eventual loss of her legs," the defense wrote in a pre-trial memo.

She tried nicotine patches, chewed nicotine gum, visited a hypnotist and took the prescription medication Chantix, records state. But quitting created withdrawal symptoms, leaving her edgy and irritable.

She lit up upon waking, lit up before bedtime, lit up in the middle of the night.

Her legs were amputated above the knees in 2003, a decade after she was diagnosed with a condition in which narrowed arteries reduce blood flow to limbs. Prosthetic legs were too painful. She uses a wheelchair.

In June 2014, she suffered a stroke. Only then was she able to successfully abstain from cigarettes, court records state.

Contact Patty Ryan at or (813) 226-3382.