West Palm Beach, FL— Jurors Monday handed down a $2 million punitive verdict against R.J. Reynolds for the role they found the tobacco giant played in a long-time smoker’s respiratory disease, wrapping a $2.54 million total award in the in-person trial. Spurlock v. R.J. Reynolds, 2007-CA-023631.
Monday’s award closed a one-day punitive phase at trial over the respiratory disease Lloyd Spurlock developed after smoking for more than half a century. Spurlock, was born in 1934, tried his first cigarette at 8, and was a regular smoker by the early 1950s, favoring Reynolds’ Winston-brand cigarettes through much of his life. He was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, in 1995, and died in 2012 for reasons unrelated to the disease.
Spurlock's family contends Reynolds’ involvement in a decades-long, industry-wide scheme to hide the dangers of cigarettes hooked him to smoking and caused his lung disease.
Monday’s punitive award came days after a nearly $541,000 compensatory award in the case.
The case is one of thousands spun from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a Florida state court class-action lawsuit originally filed in 1994. After a trial victory for the class members, the state’s supreme court ultimately decertified the class, but ruled that so-called Engle progeny cases may be tried individually.
Engle progeny plaintiffs are entitled to the benefit of the jury's findings in the original verdict, including the determination that tobacco companies had placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and hid the dangers of smoking, if they prove the smoker at the heart of the case suffered from nicotine addiction that was the legal cause of a smoking-related disease.
With jurors finding class membership in last week’s verdict, Monday’s punitive proceeding focused on whether broad tobacco-industry changes over the last two-plus decades mitigated against harsh financial punishment.
During closings in Monday’s punitive phase, King & Spalding’s Jason Keehfus, representing Reynolds, told jurors that the tobacco giant, and the industry at-large, were far different today than in the past, when Spurlock was a young smoker.
Keehfus noted that the FDA now regulates the tobacco industry, while Reynolds, which has paid billions under a Master Settlement Agreement, or MSA, with states' attorneys' general, now informs smokers of the dangers of cigarettes, and invests in safer tobacco alternatives.
“Reynolds left the past in the past,” Keehfus said. “And the past is long gone.”
But the Spurlock family’s attorney, Richard Diaz, of Richard J. Diaz, P.A., argued that Reynolds still sells dangerous, addictive cigarettes. He also contended that industry-wide changes came too late to prevent Spurlock's lung disease and should not insulate Reynolds from punishment.
“His COPD was diagnosed in 1995,” Diaz said, before requesting a $5 million punitive damage award. “FDA, MSA, that’s way later. That doesn’t punish them for what they did to him.”
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
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