BROOKSVILLE - The first tobacco lawsuit in Hernando County has ended in victory for a Spring Hill man who smoked for 40 years.
On Friday night, a six-member jury awarded John Rizzuto, 66, $12,550,000, finding cigarette companies Philip Morris and Liggett Group partially liable for Rizzuto's severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Rizzuto filed a lawsuit against the companies in 2007. In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court reversed a class action lawsuit that was to award $145 billion to smokers with diseases or medical conditions related to smoking. The court did allow individuals to sue manufacturers for damages.
John Rizzuto, a retired postal worker who moved from Ozone Park, Queens, to Spring Hill in the 1970s, filed his lawsuit in 2007.
Jury selection began on Aug. 12, with opening arguments on Aug. 15. On Wednesday, after multiple expert witnesses and medically saturated testimony, Rizzuto took the stand.
Rizzuto told jurors he had a difficult time doing routine household chores, and often missed out on his granddaughter's softball games due to his condition.
Rizzuto's lawyer, Brent Bigger, said in the trial that his client accepts some responsibility for his conditions.
Philip Morris attorney William Geraghty said nicotine's addictive qualities were known long before Rizzuto's birth, and maintained Rizzuto didn't stop smoking until he was hospitalized for shortness of breath in 2000 - some six years after being diagnosed with mild COPD.
"For the first time in his life he was actually concerned about his health," Geraghty said last week.