Mack v. R.J. Reynolds (Gainesville, Florida).
A Gainesville jury stayed late Friday night to deliver a $1M verdict in favor of Camel cigarette smoker Peter Mack Sr. just a few minutes before 10pm Eastern Time. Both sides presented fiery arguments in closing.
For the plaintiff, Avera & Smith's Rod Smith reminded the jury that Mr. Mack had suffered painful radiation therapy for laryngeal cancer, and that his voice had never fully recovered. Moreover, Mr. Mack eventually was diagnosed with COPD and was chained to breathing apparatus. "His entire focus was on how to get enough oxygen for his next breath," said Mr. Smith. "Perhaps the saddest, and the most ironic part of this case is that R.J. Reynolds sits over there claiming no responsibility for the suffering of Pete Mack despite the fact that Dr. Cummings told you that looking back through the records, Pete Mack should have been the poster boy for R.J. Reynolds -- his words, the poster boy -- of RJR customers."
For R.J. Reynolds, King & Spalding's Jeff Furr told the jury that Mr. Mack's injuries developed decades after he quit smoking, and there was no direct evidence that the laryngeal cancer resulted from smoking. Moreover, Mr. Mack's breathing problems resulted from multiple health conditions unrelated to smoking, said Mr. Furr, including morbid obesity, advanced age, and renal failure.
Mr. Furr said that Mr. Mack's mild addiction could not have been the legal cause of his injuries because "One thing we know for sure now is that addiction did not overwhelm Mr. Mack's free will and did not prevent him from quitting smoking." Mr. Furr also said that Mr. Mack knew that smoking was dangerous, was not moved by anything R.J. Reynolds did or said, could have quit any time, and did in fact quit easily when he decided to.
Mr. Mack should be found 100% at fault, said Mr. Furr, "because only Mr. Mack had the ability to prevent his own injuries...He had complete and total control of the critical decision in this case, which was whether to quit smoking or not...There is nothing that R.J. Reynolds could do to affect that decision...The plaintiffs have asked you for 25%. What's really going on here is that is a tactic that they are taking in this case. They're asking you for 25% thinking that you'll reach some compromise and only assign them maybe 50%...The evidence shows that he was 100% in control."
In his closing rebuttal, Mr. Smith raged, "I love it when they suggest to you today in argument that, 'By the way, [Mr. Mack] knew just as much as they knew.' Well if he knew it, and the public knew it, I wonder why they marked it 'Secret,' 'Top Secret,' 'Confidential'? That's what the documents are, and we said to them, 'When did the documents become publicly available?' He said after 2000, and after the Attorney Generals made them come open. But they say 'You shouldn't punish us as a company for our conduct because they're trying to say we're a bad company, that we didn't tell the truth.' I want to remind you of something...Every head of every company, under oathe, years -- years -- forty years after they knew it was addictive -- they lied to the American public about it."
"What this is really about," said Mr. Smith, "Is they want to avoid punitive damages...Fifty years they lied to the American people. They denied addictiveness. They denied dangerousness. A whole generation -- 440,000 per year, you've heard the numbers -- died. Hundreds of thousands more suffer. And never could they tell the truth. And now their answer is, 'It really wouldn't do any good to punish us...Remember the reason why they do it, folks: 'Cause all we'll need is a larger bag to haul home the money.' And now the answer is, 'Well he's here and he seeks money.' That's all they ever sought! That's all they were ever after! That's all they ever cared about! That's why punitive damages are appropriate."
The jury found in favor of the plaintiff on negligence and product defect theories, allocated 51% of fault to R.J. Reynolds, awarded $1M in compensatory damages, and found that punitive damages were not warranted.