Naples, FL—Jurors Monday concluded a former real estate broker's nearly $9 million suit against R.J. Reynolds was time barred, despite their finding nicotine addiction fueled a half-century-long smoking habit that has now tied her to an oxygen tank. Kloppenburg v. R.J. Reynolds.
Patricia Kloppenburg, 87, sought $8.9 million in compensatory damages, plus unspecified punitives, from Reynolds for her end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) doctors diagnosed in October 1990. Kloppenburg claims Reynolds' concealment of smoking's dangers hooked her on cigarettes and led to her respiratory disease.
But Reynolds successfully argued the statute of limitations barred Kloppenburg's claim because she should have known on or before May 5, 1990, that she had smoking-related COPD.
The case stems from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a 1994 Florida state court class-action lawsuit against Reynolds and the nation's other tobacco companies, in which jurors found for the plaintiffs. The state's supreme court later decertified the class, but ruled Engle progeny cases may be tried individually. Plaintiffs are entitled to the benefit of the jury's findings in the original verdict, including the determination that tobacco companies placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and hid the dangers of smoking, if they prove the smoker at the heart of a case suffered from nicotine addiction that was the legal cause of a smoking-related disease after May 5, 1990.
The eight-day trial focused on what caused Kloppenburg's COPD, when it developed and whether she should have known she suffered from smoking -related breathing problems before the bar date.
Kloppenburg began smoking when she was 15 and was a regular daily smoker by the time she was 18. She smoked for more than 55 years cumulatively, quitting for 2 years in 1970, and then finally for good in 2004. During closings Kloppenburg's attorney, The Bigger Law Firm's Brent Bigger told jurors Kloppenburg's addiction could be measured in the number of times she tried unsuccessfully to quit cigarettes, with aids ranging from hypnosis to prayer.
Bigger pinned the alleged addiction on Reynolds whom he said sought to addict its customers to maximize profits. "Unlike you, Reynolds knew when this trial started exactly what they and their co-conspirators had lied about. They knew how they had designed cigarettes to addict smokers like Mrs. Kloppenburg," Bigger said. " More importantly, Reynolds knew exactly why they did it. They were motivated by financial gain."
But, in successfully arguing the case was time barred, Jones Day's Kevin Boyce, representing Reynolds, pointed to witness testimony detailing Kloppenburg's respiratory disease symptoms, and indicating her disease likely developed up to five years before her complaints in October 1990. "You heard from all the doctors, that if you're short of breath bending over in October of 1990 [from COPD], that you were short of breath well before May of 1990," Boyce said. 'You heard witness after witness that Mrs. Kloppenburg had bronchitis, [and] that she attributed that bronchitis to smoking, years before May of 1990."
Brent Bigger of Knopf Bigger and T. Hardee Bass of Searcy Denney represent Patricia Kloppenburg.
Kevin Boyce, of Jones Day, represents R.J. Reynolds.
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