November 18, 2010 - Bronson, Fla. -- Florida jury snaps tobacco’s recent winning streak with an $80 million award to the daughter of a deceased smoker in a lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Dianne Webb claimed her father's 1996 death was caused by a 60-year smoking addiction fed by company manipulation and deception. The Levy County jury award Tuesday includes $8 million in compensatory damages and $72 million in punitive damages. (The lung cancer death of James Kayce Horner. Mr. Horner, who started smoking at the age of 17 in 1934 (decades before warning labels appeared on cigarette packages), smoked for over 60 years before dying of lung cancer on March 11, 1996, at the age of 78.) R.J. Reynolds, a unit of Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Reynolds American Inc., had no immediate comment on whether it will appeal the Levy County verdict.
The case is one of about 8,000 similar lawsuits in Florida. They are being tried individually because the state Supreme Court in 2006 threw out a huge $145 billion class-action damage award for all Florida smokers.
Background: The Engle case is named after a Florida pediatrician named Howard Engle who was the lead plaintiff in a statewide class action filed in 1994 on behalf of smokers who were addicted to nicotine and developed cancer or other smoking-related illnesses as a result. In the first part of what was intended to be a three-phase trial, a Miami jury decided a series of common questions relating to the companies’ conduct and to the health effects of smoking. In the second phase, the jury awarded $145 billion in punitive damages to the class.Attorneys representing tobacco companies in post-Engle lawsuits seem to have discovered a formula for victory as the seventh lawsuit in a row has ended with a defense verdict. A jury in Florida's 17th Judicial Circuit Court found that a long-term smoker who died from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was addicted to cigarettes manufactured by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. However, the Broward County jury said the lawsuit was untimely because the smoker should have known by May 1990 -- four years before the original Engle suit was filed -- that he had COPD caused by his smoking habit. While the win is the 10th overall for cigarette manufacturers, smokers and their families have still won the large majority of these cases. (Tobacco companies win seventh consecutive Florida suit, Westlaw Journal Tobacco Industry, 11/12/2010.)
In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court rejected the $145 billion verdict and ruled that the case couldn’t continue as a class action. At the same time, Florida’s high court upheld most of the Phase I factual findings and said they would apply in all of the individual suits filed by smokers who had been part of the Engle class. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case. The case is Brown v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., No. 08- 16158, 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (Atlanta).
References: Jury Awards $80 Million in Fla. Smoker Case
Ruling against RJR includes $8 million in compensatory, $72 million in punitive damages, CSP Daily News, 11/18/2010; Florida Jury Snaps Tobacco’s Recent Winning Streak with an $80 Million Award Against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, MA., 11/15/2010.
Some related news briefs from Florida court cases:
Florida - jury returns verdict in favor of Philip Morris USA, 5th consecutive time..;
Florida is tide turning? - 4th time in 2-weeks Philip Morris USA wins court cases..;
Florida - PM USA to challenge verdict in the Piendle v. RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris USA case..;
Florida - tobacco companies ordered to pay $2.2 million to widow of smoker..;
Florida - individual cases against big tobacco can move forward, can rely on Engle jury findings..;
Florida - jury awards smoker $21M from Philp Morris USA.;
Florida - can big tobacco survive all these lawsuits they continue to lose??;
Florida - big tobacco loses another case..;
Florida - jury awards $26.6 million to smoker's widow..;
Florida - 9 year old case, appeals court upholds $24.8 million award..;
Florida - $300 million jury award to former smoker overturned..;
Florida - jury awards $300 million in ex-smoker's suit..;
Florida - tobacco companies ask court to block ruling..;
Florida - plaintiff drops case to avoid paying legal fees for Philip Morris USA..;
R.J. Reynolds to appeal plaintiff's award of $30 million..;
R.J. Reynolds loses Florida court trial - widow gets $30 million..;
Broward County Florida jury awards widow of smoker $1.5 million..