Miami, FL—Jurors awarded the daughter of a deceased smoker more than $3 million for her father’s smoking-related pain, suffering, and medical expenses, but refused to find tobacco companies liable for punitive damages in her Engle progeny suit. Heather Irimi v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
After deliberating more than eight hours over the course of two days, jurors found that Dale Moyer’s chronic obstructive pulmonary disease was not the primary cause of his death and that Moyer himself bore the majority of responsibility for his illness. The verdict apportioned 70% of responsibility to Moyer, 14.5% each to R.J. Reynolds and Lorillard Tobacco Company, and 1% to The Liggett Group. The $3.1 million compensatory award, which included $2.75 million for Moyer’s pain and suffering and more than $373,000 for medical expenses, was less than half of the $10.3 million in compensatories Moyer’s daughter Heather Irimi sought.
Irimi's suit claimed the three tobacco manufacturers were liable for Moyer’s decades-long smoking addiction and a variety of illnesses, including COPD and parotid cancer, that led to his death in 2013. However, defense counsel argued that Moyer was a willing smoker who decided to quit the habit only after being diagnosed with COPD and that he died of cancer unrelated to his smoking.
The cause of Moyer’s death was a central point of the trial. Defense counsel highlighted the fact that Moyer's respiratory disease was listed along with his cancer on an amended death certificate only at the request of Moyer's family, while both sides argued the cause and origin of the parotid cancer that led to Moyer's death. In its 14-answer verdict, jurors found smoking did not cause Moyer's parotid cancer.
Moyer's alleged reliance on a tobacco industry conspiracy to conceal smoking's dangers also proved to be a key issue at trial, with opposing counsel parsing various elements of Moyer's videotaped deposition as to whether he believed tobacco industry claims and marketing tactics. The jury ultimately rejected Irimi's concealment claims, denying her a punitive award.
The Irimi verdict is the third Engle progeny award broadcast by CVN so far this week, and among the first wave of Engle verdicts to follow a record $23.6 billion punitive award against tobacco defendants in a Pensacola, FL suit. Jurors in two cases on Wednesday awarded $7 million (Robert Wilcox v. R.J. Reynolds) and $3 million (Sherri Hubbird v. R.J. Reynolds) to the families of long-time smokers who died after developing lung cancer. Jurors will determine punitive awards in the second phase of each of those cases. In a fourth suit, an Indian River County judge declared a mistrial following a jury verdict awarding no compensatory damages but finding liability for punitives. Robert Gore v. R.J. Reynolds.