$21M Award to Smoker's Widow in Suit Against R.J. Reynolds

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Nov 19, 2014 7:00:00 AM

Diane Schleider's attorney, Gary Paige, delivers his closing argument in Schleider's wrongful death suit against R.J. Reynolds. A Miami jury awarded Schleider $21 million for the cancer-related death of her husband, a long-time smoker of Reynolds-brand cigarettes. Click here if you cannot watch the clip above.

Miami—After more than two days of deliberations, a jury awarded Diane Schleider $21 million in her Engle progeny wrongful death suit against tobacco manufacturer R.J. Reynolds. Diane Schleider v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

The verdict, which rejected a claim for punitive damages, found that Schleider's husband, Andrew, was addicted to nicotine, which ultimately caused his fatal lung cancer. In rendering its verdict, the jury apportioned 70% of responsibility to Reynolds and 30% to Andrew Schleider.

Andrew Schleider, a smoker of Reynolds-brand cigarettes for decades, died of cancer in 1997, leading Dianne to sue Reynolds, claiming the company's concealment of smoking's dangers led to her husband's nicotine addiction and ultimately caused his cancer.

The case turned in part on whether Andrew Schleider had lung cancer on or before November 21, 1996, the cut-off date for Diane's membership in the Engle class of plaintiffs suing tobacco manufacturers. During closing arguments Friday, Diane Schleider's attorney, Gary Paige, acknowledged that the lung cancer had not been diagnosed by the cutoff date. However, he reminded jurors of evidence that Andrew Schleider had symptoms priot to the cutoff date that could have been tied to lung cancer and that an X-ray taken on November 21, 1996 revealed tell-tale signs of cancer. "He's having fatigue. He's having symptoms of the cancer. It's presenting itself, it's showing itself, it's in his body, and it's diagnosable," before November 21, 1996, Paige said. "We don't even have to wait for the last day, but by the last day we know with 100% certainty, 100% certainty, not the greater weight of the evidence, that he had diagnosable symptoms of lung cancer."

By contrast, R.J. Reynolds attorneys argued that the symptoms of which Andrew Schleider complained prior to the Engle cutoff date, including weight loss and fatigue, did not establish that he had cancer, and no one diagnosed him with cancer by the November 21 cutoff. "It's undisputed evidence that the plaintiff cannot get around," Reynolds attorney Frank Bayuk told jurors in his closing argument Friday. "There is a complete failure to prove their medical case."

In finding for Diane Schleider, the jury's $21 million compensatory award included $15 million for her loss of companionship and $6 million for the loss of parental companionship to Andrew Schleider's daughter, Suzanne LeMehaute.

Schleider, as other Engle progeny cases, arises from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision decertifying Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a class action suit originally filed in 1994. Although the state’s supreme court ruled Engle cases must be tried individually, it found qualifying Engle progeny plaintiffs could rely on certain jury findings in the original case, including that tobacco companies sold a dangerous, addictive product. However, to qualify for the Engle findings, plaintiffs must establish that they are members of the class, which includes proving manifestation of a smoking-related disease by November 21, 1996.

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Topics: Negligence, Engle Progeny, Tobacco Litigation, Mass Torts, News, Schleider v. R.J. Reynolds