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R.J. Reynolds to Pay $29 Million Awarded by Jury in Smoking Death Trial

Oct 25, 2016
R.J. Reynolds to Pay $29M Awarded by Jury in Smoking Trial

A Florida jury awarded a widower about $10 million more than he had originally sought in a trial over the lung disease and death of his chain-smoking wife. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. will be required to pay $20 million in punitive damages, as well as an additional $8.8 million in compensatory damages awarded in the prior day's verdict.

The jurors awarded the plaintiff $8.8 million in compensatory damages for his having lost his wife, as well as nearly $300,000 to cover incurred medical expenses. During the punitive damage phase, he sought $14 million but received $20 million, according to Law360. The plaintiff's attorney made emotional closing arguments and told jurors that the plaintiff had lost his wife of 29 years to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The jurors heard of the adventures they shared and how they had a right to grow old together, Law360 wrote.

Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in America and smoking and second-hand smoke are linked to serious and deadly diseases in adults and children, including respiratory ailments, cardiac disease, and a broad array of cancers, to name just some.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NIH) describes COPD as a progressive disease that makes it difficult to breathe, worsening over time. COPD may cause coughing that produces copious amounts of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and other symptoms. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD and most people diagnosed with COPD either smoke or used to smoke.

Meanwhile, this case is one case of thousands emerging from the landmark Engle class action against tobacco companies. Findings included the conclusions that smoking causes certain diseases and the tobacco companies did not reveal all of the dangers associated with smoking, reported Law360.

The Engle v. Liggett Group Inc. case was a large class action lawsuit filed in 1994 on behalf of Florida citizens who suffered from or died from smoking-related illnesses. In 2000, a jury returned a verdict for the Engle plaintiffs, including $145 billion in punitive damages. In 2004, an appellate court overturned the jury's decision and reversed the award. In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the appellate court decision and de-certified the class; however, the Supreme Court ruled that members of the original lawsuit would be allowed to file individual lawsuits against tobacco companies using the findings from the Engle case that include that cigarette smoking causes cancer, that nicotine is addictive, and that tobacco companies sold defective and unreasonably dangerous cigarettes.

The litigation was reduced to cover a class in Florida and was further reduced so as not to be a class action at all. Engle was ultimately broadened into the thousands of individual trials it represents today-the so-called "third round," according to a prior ScotusBlog report. The report also indicated that the lawsuits are believed to be more effectively resolvable individually because of how the Court originally created the plan regarding the way in which the cases would be tried. The 1994 Engle case involved six individuals and eight claims of injustices allegedly conducted by tobacco firms against smokers. Allegations ranged from fraud claims to claims that cigarettes are inherently dangerous due to their flawed designs.

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