UPDATE: $15.4M+ Total Verdict Against RJR at Trial Over 50-Year-Old Smoker's Death

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Feb 25, 2022 12:08:50 PM


Stock image. 

Update 2/25/22: This story has been updated to reflect the punitive award issued in the case. 

Clearwater, FL— Jurors this week handed down a $15.495 million total verdict against R.J. Reynolds for the role they found the tobacco giant played in the lung cancer death of a 50-year-old Florida man. Giambalvo v. R.J. Reynolds, 18-001663-CI-15. 

The Florida state Sixth Circuit Court jury's award includes $7 million in compensatory damages awarded Wednesday and $8.495 million in punitives awarded Friday for the 1999 lung cancer death of Salvatore “Sam” Giambalvo. 

Giambalvo was a regular smoker by the time he was 15 and smoked up to two-and-a-half packs of cigarettes a day for decades before his death. His family contends Reynolds, makers of the cigarettes Giambalvo smoked for years, is responsible by selling a product it knew was dangerous and addictive, and participating in a conspiracy to hide those dangers. 

Jurors Wednesday determined nicotine addiction and cigarettes caused Giambalvo's fatal cancer, and found Reynolds liable on plaintiff's conspiracy claim in the case. 

The lawsuit is one of thousands of so-called Engle-progeny cases, claims spun from a class action by Florida smokers against the nation’s tobacco companies. After a trial court verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, the Florida Supreme Court decertified the class, ruling individual plaintiffs could recover only if they proved the smoker at the heart of each case was addicted to cigarettes that caused a disease. 


Beyond legal causation, the medical cause of Giambalvo’s cancer served as a fundamental question at trial. During Monday’s closings on class membership, Jones Day’s Frank Bayuk told jurors there were no medical treatment records definitively tying Giambalvo’s lung cancer to smoking. Instead, he told jurors, when Giambalvo was first diagnosed with cancer, his wife made notes indicating doctors diagnosed the disease as bronchoalveolar carcinoma, or BAC, which is not linked to smoking. 

“You heard that she worked for a long time as a medical transcriptionist. Her job was to take what doctors say and write it down verbatim,” Bayuk said. “And that is exactly what she did on two occasions, again, before there was ever any lawsuit contemplated.”

But Gordon & Partners’ Gary Paige argued that doctors considered, but did not definitively diagnose, BAC when first testing Giambalvo’s cancer. By contrast, he pointed to experts that subsequently reviewed Giambalvo’s medical records and concluded the cancer was an adenocarcinoma caused by smoking. 

“This is really all we should need to say,” Paige told jurors Monday. “We brought you two witnesses more than qualified… all they do is lung cancer, and they both came into court, they told you that there was no doubt in their minds that this is lung cancer from smoking.”

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Topics: Products Liability, tobacco, Engle Progeny, Florida, Giambalvo v. R.J. Reynolds