$0 Punitive Verdict Wraps Wrongful Death Cancer Trial Against RJR

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Apr 19, 2023 11:55:38 AM


Stock image. 

Miami, FL— Jurors last week handed down a $0 verdict in a punitives-only proceeding against R.J. Reynolds over its role in the 1996 throat cancer death of a Florida man. Ledo v. R.J. Reynolds, 2008-CA-000113. 

The Florida state 11th Circuit Court jury deliberated roughly an hour before concluding the tobacco company should not pay punitive damages for the cancer death of Jose Ledo, who had smoked the company’s Winston-brand cigarettes for years. 

Friday’s verdict concludes the latest chapter in the long-running proceeding. Ledo's family contends Reynolds was responsible for his addiction to cigarettes, which ultimately caused his death. In 2016, the company was found 49% responsible, reducing a $6 million compensatory verdict in that original trial to $2.9 million. A directed verdict for the defense on the issue of punitives in that trial was later reversed on appeal, leading to a 2021 punitives-only proceeding that ended in a post-verdict mistrial. 

The Ledo case is one of thousands of so-called “Engle-progeny” claims, lawsuits spun from an ultimately decertified 1990s class action by Florida smokers against the nation’s tobacco companies. In decertifying the class following a trial court verdict against the companies, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that individual Engle progeny plaintiffs can recover only if they prove the smoker at the heart of each case was addicted to cigarettes that legally caused a smoking-related illness.

Last week’s four-day proceeding focused on Reynolds’ conduct during the time Ledo smoked. During Thursday’s closings, Parafinczuk Wolf’s Justin Parafinczuk highlighted evidence, including internal documents he said showed Reynolds knew that smoking was dangerous and addictive, yet worked to cast doubt on evidence of smoking’s risks throughout much of the latter half of the 20th century. 

“What did they do with all the information that they had behind the scenes?” Parafinczuk asked, before suggesting a roughly $15 million punitive award. “They kept putting profits over people. They said, 'We’re going to market as much as we possibly can. Let’s get everybody on the cigarette train.'”

But Reynolds’ attorneys argued  the company should not be liable for punitive damages because there was no proof a design defect in its Winstons was a substantial cause of Ledo’s cancer. During Thursday’s closings, King & Spalding’s Drew Bell told jurors evidence established cigarettes are inherently dangerous by nature and there was nothing to indicate Winstons were designed to be any more dangerous than other brands. 

“Winston was not designed to be more dangerous. It was designed to be less dangerous,” Bell said, referring to evidence that Reynolds had worked to reduce tar in the brand. “They were designed to be safer.”

Email Arlin Crisco at 

Related information

Watch the trial. 

Not a subscriber?

Learn how you can access an unrivaled trial video library. 



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