R.J. Reynolds loses Florida court trial - widow gets $30 million..

June 3, 2009 - As pointed out in January 2008, Cigarette Makers Face Thousands of New Florida Lawsuits...

Here's one of many to come: Circuit Judge Terry Terrell presided over the three-week trial in Pensacola, the first of what will be many tried in Northwest Florida and throughout the state. Some 100 similar cases will be tried in the 1st Judicial Circuit of Florida, which includes Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties.

A six-person jury on Friday, May 29th ruled in favor of Hilda Martin, the widow of Benny Martin, a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer in 1995. Of the award, R.J. Reynolds was ordered Friday to pay $5 million as compensation to Martin. The remaining $25 million was awarded Monday, June 1st as punitive damages, which a jury can award plaintiffs in civil cases to curb future misconduct by the defendant.

The jurors deliberated for about a hour Monday morning after hearing from attorneys for both parties.

Robert Loehr, the attorney for Benny Martin’s estate, said throughout the three-week trial that R.J. Reynolds and other tobacco companies conspired to make their products more addictive to customers and withheld information from the public about the dangers of smoking. Loehr likened the tobacco industry’s decades-long attempt to cover up the ill effects of smoking to the current corporate malfeasance in the U.S. banking system. “The results in this case are much more tragic,” Loehr said Monday.

Defense attorney Mark Belasic said that further punishment against the company was not required since R.J. Reynolds already acknowledged that its products can cause illnesses such as lung cancer and emphysema and that its products are addictive.

Circuit courts throughout the state were required to try the tobacco liability cases as a result of a Florida Supreme Court decision to overturn a $145 billion award in a 1994 class-action lawsuit known as the Engle case. The higher court said smokers must prove on a case-by-case basis that cigarettes caused their respective illnesses.

The original class-action lawsuit filed by the family of deceased Miami Beach pediatrician Howard Engle said that tobacco companies actively sought to keep customers addicted to their products. (Significance of the Engle Tobacco Case in Florida, Legal Match)

Reference: Pensacola widow gets $30M in tobacco suit by Kris Wernowsky, pnj.com, 6/1/2009.