Jacksonville, FL— Jurors Tuesday found R.J. Reynolds cigarettes caused a Florida man’s lung cancer death, but found the smoker himself largely responsible and declined to award damages in the case. Miller v. R.J. Reynolds, 2008-CA-000401.
The state’s Fourth Circuit Court jury, in Duval County, deliberated for about five hours Tuesday before concluding years of smoking R.J. Reynolds cigarettes led to Wayne Redburn’s cancer death in 1995, at age 53.
However, the jury found Redburn himself 75% responsible for the disease, cleared RJR on conspiracy and fraud claims, and refused to award damages in the case, brought on behalf of two of his, now-adult children.
Terrell Hogan’s Angelo Patacca, representing Redburn’s family, requested $5 million in compensatories during Tuesday’s closings, plus a finding that punitives were warranted.
The lawsuit is among thousands of similar claims that stem from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a 1994 Florida state court class-action case against the nation’s tobacco companies. The state's supreme court ultimately decertified the class, but ruled that so-called 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 conspired to hide the dangers of smoking. However, in order to be entitled to those findings, plaintiffs must prove the smokers at the heart of their cases suffered from nicotine addiction that caused a smoking-related disease.
Redburn began smoking in the 1950s and continued smoking up to two packs a day until his 1995 death. The 11-day trial turned in large part on who was ultimately responsible for Redburn’s cancer. During Tuesday’s closing arguments, Patacca walked jurors through documents he said showed Reynolds designed cigarettes to be as addictive as possible, then joined in a scheme to undercut the evidence of smoking’s dangers. That combination, Pattaca, said hooked Redburn to cigarettes and ultimately caused his death. “Wayne Redburn, while partially at fault for his own death, was never on equal footing with this industry, and most importantly this defendant,” Patacca said. “They knew [of smoking’s risks] way before him. They didn’t admit until after him.”
But RJR argued Redburn ignored warnings in the public and from those close to him, and chose to smoke for years. During Tuesday’s closings, Jones Day’s Emily Baker walked jurors through evidence she said showed Redburn knew of smoking’s dangers as far back as the 1960s. “You know the story that plaintiff wants you to accept, that Mr. Patacca talked about this morning — the story of the smoker who didn’t know the risks, who was powerless to make his own decisions — you know that is not Mr. Redburn’s story,” Baker said. “The real life that Mr. Redburn led was that of a willing smoker who smoked for 40 years without ever making a motivated plan to quit smoking.”
The refusal to award damages despite a finding of Engle class membership is unusual but not unique in Engle progeny cases. In 2018, for example, jurors in the state's 16th Circuit, in Key West, found RJR cigarettes caused Leonard Mobley's death, but declined to award damages to his widow.
This is the second time the case has come before CVN cameras. In 2016, Florida 4th Circuit Judge Virginia Norton declared a mistrial in the case following Florida Supreme Court decisions issued mid-trial regarding when a smoking-related disease “manifests” itself for Engle purposes and when a plaintiff is entitled to seek punitive damages.
This month’s retrial in the case was before Fourth Circuit Judge Katie Dearing.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Robert Miller is represented by Terrell Hogan’s Wayne Hogan and Angelo Patacca..
R.J. Reynolds is represented by Jones Day’s Emily Baker.
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