Vero Beach, FL—A Florida jury concluded Wednesday that R.J. Reynolds was not responsible for the lung cancer death of a former golf pro who smoked the company’s cigarettes for decades. Jones v. R.J. Reynolds, 2008-CA-0057.
The 19th Circuit Court jury, sitting in Indian River County, needed less than three hours to decide that nicotine addiction wasn’t the legal cause of the lung cancer that killed Demos Jones.
Jones, who worked in the banking industry before eventually becoming a golf professional, and later moving from South Carolina to Florida, died of lung cancer in 1994 after nearly 50 years of smoking, including Reynolds’ Lucky Strikes and Camel brands. His widow, Phyllis, claims Jones’ death stemmed from a powerful addiction to cigarettes furthered by tobacco industry concealment of smoking’s hazards throughout much of the last century.
During Wednesday’s closings, Phyllis Jones’ attorney, David Carter, of Gould Cooksey Fennell P.A., requested up to $12.5 million in compensatory damages for her and the couple’s son, Chris, plus a finding that punitives were warranted.
The case is one of thousands of Florida’s so-called Engle progeny lawsuits against the nation’s tobacco companies. They stem from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision decertifying Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a class-action tobacco suit originally filed in 1994, and which had returned a jury verdict for the plaintiffs’ class. Although the state’s supreme court ruled that Engle-progeny cases must be tried individually, it found plaintiffs could rely on certain jury findings in the original case, including the determination that tobacco companies had placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and had conspired to hide the dangers of smoking for decades.
In order to be entitled to those findings, however, each plaintiff must prove class membership by showing the smoker at the heart of the case suffered from nicotine addiction that caused a smoking-related disease such as lung cancer.
The Jones trial turned on the questions over why Jones smoked for most of his life. Phyllis Jones’ attorneys argued her husband struggled with a pwoerful addiction to cigarettes. During closing arguments on Tuesday, Carter reminded jurors of expert testimony that Jones met addiction criteria set by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and applied by nicotine addiction expert Dr. David Burns.
Carter also recounted Jones’ failed quit attempts and testimony that he repeatedly told family members and his own doctor that he couldn’t stop smoking. “This was a man who was pained by his inability to stop smoking,” Carter said. “A man who was in the grips of this addiction.”
However, the defense argued Jones never truly wanted to quit smoking. During Wednesday’s closings, Jones Day’s Jose Isasi noted evidence Jones had tried to quit only twice, for a total of seven days, throughout more than 45 years of smoking. “Sometimes ‘I can’t’ really means ‘I don’t want to,'” Isasi said.
Isasi reminded jurors of testimony concerning Jones’ emotional reaction to a failing business, and argued there was no evidence Jones reacted similarly over his failed quit attempts. “If he was really trying to quit and was making a sincere effort, and was somehow stymied by addiction, wouldn’t you have heard some something?” Isasi asked.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phyllis Jones is represented by Gould Cooksey Fennell P.A.’s Jason Odom and David Carter.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by Jose Isasi, Jack Williams, and Leah Pike.
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