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Jury Awards $0 to Smoker's Widow, Despite Linking RJR Cigarettes to Smoker's Cancer Death

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Mar 2, 2018 7:12:16 PM

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Key West, FL—A state court jury Thursday found R.J. Reynolds cigarettes caused the lung cancer that killed a Florida smoker, but cleared Reynolds of financial liability in the case.  Mobley v. R.J. Reynolds, 2007-CA-001709.

Jurors deliberated for about six hours before reaching a verdict, which linked Leonard Mobley’s decades of smoking Reynolds cigarettes to his lung cancer death in 1993. However, the jury attributed 95% of responsibility for the fatal cancer to Mobley himself and awarded no money to Mobley’s widow, Jewell.  

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Jewell Mobley’s attorney, Morgan & Morgan’s Keith Mitnik, had requested $10 million in compensatory damages, plus a finding that punitives were warranted, during Wednesday’s closing arguments.

The case is one of thousands spun from from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a Florida state court class-action lawsuit originally filed in 1994. Plaintiffs in that suit contended a sweeping scheme by the nation’s tobacco companies to hide the dangers of smoking throughout much of the 20th century led to widespread nicotine addiction among smokers and ultimately caused various smoking-related diseases.

After a trial victory for the class members, the state’s supreme court ultimately decertified the class, but ruled that so-called Engle progeny cases may be tried individually. Engle progeny plaintiffs are entitled to the benefit of the jury's findings in the original verdict, including the determination that tobacco companies had placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and hid the dangers of smoking, if they prove the smoker at the heart of the case suffered from nicotine addiction that was the legal cause of a smoking-related disease such as lung cancer.

Mobley, who began smoking at about 16, continued for more than four decades, favoring Reynolds’ Pall Mall and Salem brands. The eight-day trial turned on whether he knew the dangers of smoking or was duped by a decades-long campaign to spread doubt about scientific evidence showing cigarettes were dangerous.

During Thursday’s closings, Mitnik walked jurors through decades of tobacco industry documents he said showed a grand scheme to sow doubt and confusion about eh dangers of cigarettes. “’Doubt is our product,’” Mitnik told jurors, quoting from a 1969 tobacco industry document. “It is also the means of establishing controversy, which we know to be bogus, but Mr. Mobley did not.”

Mitnik said Mobley’s switch to filtered Salem cigarettes from unfiltered Pall Malls showed he believed by tobacco marketing of filtered cigarettes as safer than their unfiltered counterparts. And he contended Mobley was one of millions of addicted smokers who, through addiction bias, would be more likely to believe fraudulent claims that filtered cigarettes were safer. “People who are addicted don’t want to have to stop,” Mitnik said. “They preyed on it, for money. And it worked on Mr. Mobley.”

However, the defense contended Mobley chose to smoke despite knowing the dangers of cigarettes and argued there was nothing to link tobacco messaging to his smoking decisions. “Mr. Mobley never told anyone that he was… confused about the health risks or [addictiveness] to nicotine,” King & Spalding’s Ursula Henninger told jurors during closings. “He never said, ‘You know, tobacco companies are saying this.’ You didn’t get that evidence in this case.”

King & Spalding’s Jason Keehfus added that tobacco warnings and the growing number of smokers who quit during the years Mobley continued smoking belied claims that a  “campaign of doubt and confusion” defrauded Mobley. “The information [about smoking’s dangers] was known and available across the country. It was known and available to Mr. Mobley, but he made no serious effort to quit,” Keehfus said. “People were quitting because of fears and concerns, not doubt and confusion.”

Email Arlin Crisco at acrisco@cvn.com.

Related Information

Jewell Mobley is represented by Morgan & Morgan’s Keith Mitnik.

R.J. Reynolds is represented by King & Spalding’s Ursula Henninger and Jason Keehfus.

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Topics: Mobley v. R.J. Reynolds, Florida, Engle Progeny, tobacco