Fort Myers, FL—A Florida state court jury Tuesday awarded $1.65 million to the widower of a 61-year-old smoker after finding R.J. Reynolds responsible for her cancer-related death. Maloney v. R.J. Reynolds, 07-CA-015578.
The 20th Circuit Court jury in Lee County deliberated for about seven hours across two days before finding Reynolds’ participation in a tobacco industry conspiracy to conceal smoking’s health risks led to Carolyn Maloney’s nicotine addiction and lung cancer.
The $1.65 million compensatory award includes $1.4 million for John Maloney’s pain, suffering, and loss of spousal companionship. While the jury found against Reynolds on the fraud and conspiracy claims, it declined to award punitive damages and apportioned fault equally between Maloney and Reynolds, raising the question of whether the damage award will ultimately be reduced.
During Monday’s closing arguments, John Maloney’s attorney, Morgan & Morgan’s Craig Stevens, requested about $12 million in compensatory damages, plus a finding that punitives were warranted.
Maloney, who began smoking as a teenager, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1996. The cancer spread to her brain, and Maloney ultimately died in 2003 from complications related to the disease and its treatment.
The case is one of thousands of Florida’s Engle progeny lawsuits against the nation’s tobacco companies. They stem from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision decertifying Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a class-action tobacco suit originally filed in 1994. Although the state’s supreme court ruled that Engle-progeny cases must be tried individually, it found plaintiffs could rely on certain jury findings in the original case, including the determination that tobacco companies had placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and had conspired to hide the dangers of smoking for decades.
In order to prevail and be entitled to those findings, however, each plaintiff must prove class membership by showing nicotine addiction caused a smoking-related disease such as lung cancer.
This is the second time the Maloney case has been before a jury in the last year. In November 2016, Judge Elizabeth Krier ordered a mistrial in the case after a jury declared itself deadlocked on the question of Engle class membership.
This time around, the eight-day trial centered largely on whether Maloney was hopelessly hooked for years on cigarettes or chose to smoke for enjoyment. During Monday’s closings, Reynolds' attorney, Jones Day’s Steven Geise, told jurors Maloney smoked for years without being truly motivated to quit, and he reminded jurors that John Maloney questioned the effort she put into her quit attempts. “She would tell people ‘I smoke because I want to smoke,’” Geise said. “And, in fact, she told Mr. Maloney, ‘I don’t want to stop smoking.’”
But Stevens noted Maloney, who smoked up to three packs of cigarettes a day, was considered addicted to nicotine under at least two behavioral tests. Stevens added Maloney’s reluctance to quit went hand in hand with the severity of her nicotine addiction and the tobacco industry’s scheme to cast doubt on the dangers of smoking. “Whether or not you enjoyed smoking, whether or not you were motivated or [had a lack of motivation] to quit smoking, those were all things, we believe the evidence will show, were sapped.” Stevens said. “The more you’re addicted, the less your ability to do these things [related to quitting].”
Neither the parties’ attorneys nor Reynolds representatives could immediately be reached for comment.
Email Arlin Crisco at [email protected].
Craig Stevens, of Morgan & Morgan, represents John Maloney.
Steven Geise, of Jones Day, represents R.J. Reynolds.
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