Miami, FL— Jurors Tuesday handed down a $13.5 million verdict at trial against R.J. Reynolds over the 1996 cancer death of a Florida smoker. Rey v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 2007-CA-046340.
The award, to Fernando Rey’s three children, followed the Florida State 11th Circuit Court jury’s finding that Rey’s addiction to R.J. Reynolds’ Camel-brand cigarettes ultimately caused his fatal lung cancer. However, jurors apportioned 40 percent of responsibility to Rey himself and declined to award punitive damages in the case, likely reducing the post-verdict award.
Rey immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba as an 11-year old in 1960, and began smoking as a teenager, favoring Reynolds’ unfiltered Camel cigarettes. Rey’s 1996 death came six months after doctors diagnosed him with cancer. His children contend Reynolds is responsible for their father's fatal lung cancer by selling cigarettes the company knew were dangerous.
The 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.
What legally caused Rey’s cancer, and who should bear responsibility for the consequences of his smoking, served as a key point of contention during the 10-day trial, with Reynolds contending that Rey’s own smoking-related decisions caused the fatal disease. During Monday’s closings, King & Spalding’s Randy Basset reviewed evidence, including testimony from Rey’s wife, that he said showed Rey enjoyed cigarettes, and was warned for years about the risks of smoking, but was never truly interested in quitting.
“We know he was making his own smoking decisions and did not want to quit,” Bassett told jurors. “When people were approaching him about quitting, he never even stopped. He never stopped for 24 hours.”
But while Rey’s attorneys acknowledged that Rey himself bore some responsibility for failing to quit in time to avoid his cancer, they argued his addiction to nicotine fueled his smoking and ultimately caused his death. During Monday’s closings, The Alvarez Law Firm’s Nick Reyes spotlighted evidence he said showed Rey was so hooked to cigarettes he was unable to quit, despite using various smoking-cessation aids. And he argued the fault lies with Reynolds, which he said leveraged nicotine addiction to drive cigarette sales.
“R.J. Reynolds admits that nicotine is a substantial and important chemical that keeps addicted smokers smoking,” Reyes said. “It is the most important factor of why people smoke. The addiction. They’re admitting it, too. This is the smoking gun.”
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
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