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RJR Cleared in $5M+ Suit Over Florida Smoker's COPD

Posted by Arlin Crisco on May 29, 2018 8:08:19 PM

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Sarasota, FL— Jurors last week cleared R.J. Reynolds of fault for the respiratory disease a Florida man developed following decades of smoking the company’s cigarettes. Damiano v. R.J. Reynolds, 2011-CA-000450.  

The jury in the state’s 12th Judicial Circuit, in Sarasota County, rejected John Damiano’s claim that nicotine addiction legally caused his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

Damiano, 75, who allegedly had his first cigarette at 7 and was a pack-a-day smoker by the time he was 13, smoked up to three packs a day for more than 30 years. He claims Reynolds’ involvement in a scheme to hide the dangers and addictiveness of smoking hooked him to cigarettes and ultimately caused the COPD doctors diagnosed him with in the 1990s.  

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During his closing argument last Tuesday, Damiano’s attorney, William Wichmann, of The Law Offices of William Wichmann, requested $5 million in compensatory damages plus a finding that punitives were warranted.

The case is one of thousands of similar suits spun from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision decertifying Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a class action originally filed in 1994. 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 through much of the 20th century.

To recover damages, however, each plaintiff must prove nicotine addiction caused a smoking-related disease such as COPD.

During his closing last Tuesday, Wichmann contended addiction tests, as well as Damiano’s own behavior while smoking for more than three decades, proved he was hooked. Wichmann noted Damiano smoked constantly throughout the day and only quit after using a nicotine patch. “Why, why, why would John have smoked so much over such a long period of time, so compulsively, and the way that he did smoke?” Wichmann asked. “And the answer to that is the drug nicotine.”

But the defense contended Damiano was not hooked on cigarettes. During last Tuesday’s closing arguments, Jones Day’s Jose Isasi reminded jurors Damiano said two years ago he never considered himself addicted to smoking, and Isasi contended application of the tests used to define Damiano as nicotine dependent were flawed. Isasi also noted Damiano quit while smoking Reynolds’ More-brand of cigarettes, which had among the highest nicotine levels of the various brands he smoked throughout his life. “Mr. Damiano quit the cigarette that, if he had been addicted to nicotine and been a hopeless addict, should have been the toughest one for him to quit, ever, of all the cigarettes,” Isasi said. “And yet that’s the one that, in two or three months, he was able to stop.”

Jurors needed less than four hours to reach their verdict.

Email Arlin Crisco at acrisco@cvn.com.

Related Information

John Damiano is represented by William Wichmann, of The Law Offices of William Wichmann, and Richard Kinnan of Engstrom, Lipscomb & Lack.

R.J. Reynolds is represented by Jose Isasi and Joyce McKinniss, of Jones Day.

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