MIAMI, FL - Last week a Miami-Dade County jury awarded $4.25 million to a smoker's widow after determining cigarettes manufactured by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (NYSE: RAI) caused her husband's throat cancer. According to a Courtroom View Network webcast of the verdict being delivered, the jury assigned 15 percent responsibility to Milton Williams, therefore reducing the verdict amount from $5 million.
Virginia Williams' lawsuit on behalf of her late husband was once part of the "Engle" class action which resulted in a historic $145 billion verdict against the tobacco companies. After the Florida Supreme Court ruled each claim must be considered individually, juries have been slowly working through thousands of pending cases.
This most recent verdict came after nearly two weeks of trial proceedings. During closing arguments, plaintiff's attorney David J. Finger of The Ferraro Law Firm asked jurors to award Virginia Williams millions of dollars in compensation for the loss of her husband, despite Milton Williams being partially responsible for over 40 years of smoking. "When they cremated that man with a hole in his throat...I submit to you that left a hole in her heart," Finger told the jury. He also requested the same 15 percent responsibility assigned to Milton Williams, that the jury ultimately allocated.
Attorneys for R.J. Reynolds argued to jurors, that Milton Williams was responsible for his tobacco use. "He (Williams' attorney) made it seem like everyone who grew up in the 40's and 50's turned into a smoker, and that's simply not true," said attorney Jack Williams of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice. "This case is not about all cigarette smokers, it is about one cigarette smoker." Williams went on to list a number of likely factors R.J. Reynolds claimed were responsible for the plaintiff's pharyngeal cancer besides smoking, including alcohol use, human papillomavirus, and poor dental hygiene. He also claimed the evidence showed Milton Williams never made a serious effort to quit smoking.
The jury's decision to reject those arguments comes after another recent Engle case in Leon County resulted in a multimillion plaintiff's verdict, while a Suwannee County jury also recently returned a verdict for R.J. Reynolds. All three trials were webcast gavel to gavel by Courtroom View Network, which has video recorded nearly every Engle trial to date. At least three more Engle trials are scheduled to begin in January alone, with dozens more ready to go to trial in the following weeks and months.
In the Miami trial, Virginia Williams was also represented by Allan Kaiser, and R.J. Reynolds was also represented by Dal Burton. The case is Virginia Williams, on behalf of Milton Williams v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, case number 2011-26313 before Judge Spencer Eig in the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida.