Each Friday we highlight the week’s Engle progeny tobacco trials, cases in the news, and look ahead to next week.
Defense counsel Steven Geist argues that Betty Owens, the deceased smoker at the heart of the Ellis v. R.J. Reynolds case, was not addicted to cigarettes. Jurors found in favor of the tobacco manufacturer Thursday. Click here to view on-demand coverage of the trial.
Verdict: For the defense.
The sole case this week went to the jury late Wednesday, and jurors spent little time in deliberations, returning a verdict for R.J. Reynolds before noon on Thursday. Opposing counsel sparred over whether Betty Owens, plaintiff Ken Ellis's mother and the smoker whose death from lung cancer at 57 sparked the suit, was addicted to cigarettes and whether that addiction caused her cancer. Ellis's attorney Laura Shamp criticized the defense's expert Jill Hayes for failing to follow the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a psychiatric publication used to classify mental illness. Conversely, defense expert Steven Geist argued Ellis's expert on addiction, Dr. Tonia Werner, improperly used the DSM as a mere checklist. "After telling you that DSM-5 can't be used as a cookbook, Dr. Werner did exactly that," in determining Owens was addicted to cigarettes, Geist said.
The six-member panel ultimately rejected the contention that Owens was addicted to cigarettes and that it led to her cancer.
Opening statements are expected Monday morning in the retrial of this suit by Pearl Morse, who is seeking damages for the smoking-related, lung cancer death of her husband Jay. In the earlier proceeding in 2012, available on demand from CVN, a mistrial was declared subsequent to a decision in favor of Morse when a juror claimed fellow jurors had predetermined the verdict.
Engle in the News
Florida Supreme Court Refuses to Review $33 Million Award in Alexander
The state's supreme court earlier this week denied Lorillard Tobacco Company's petition seeking review of a $33 million damage award to the widow of a smoker whose husband died of lung cancer. The award had previously been affirmed by Florida's Third District Court of Appeal.
Jurors in the 2012 trial, which is available on demand on CVN, had awarded $20 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitives. The trial court subsequently reduced the compensatory award to $10 million but denied Lorillard's motion to remit the punitive award, and after applying the jury's finding that Lorillard was 80% at fault, awarded $33 million.