Bartow, FL— R.J. Reynolds was hit with a $5.57 million verdict last week for the role jurors found the company played in the lung cancer death of a Florida man. Leidinger v. R.J. Reynolds.
The total award includes $3 million in compensatory damages and $2.57 million in punitives for the 1993 lung cancer death of 49-year-old Ken Ryals, who had smoked Reynolds’ Winston-brand cigarettes for years.
Ryals’ family claims that Reynolds hooked him to cigarettes and caused his lung cancer by conspiring with other tobacco companies to conceal the dangers and addictiveness of cigarettes through much of the 20th century.
The case is among thousands of claims spun from a 1990s 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.
The 10-day trial turned in part on why Ryals smoked. Reynolds contends Ryals enjoyed cigarettes, and chose to smoke despite knowing the risks involved.
During closings in the trial’s class-membership phase last week, Jones Day’s Mark Belasic told jurors that Ryals ignored warnings to quit smoking for decades, quit in 1980, then ultimately returned to cigarettes well after nicotine should have cleared his system. “He heard all of those different types of warnings,” Belasic said, “from the dramatic warning that his own mother died [from smoking] to [the warning that] in the future his health could be concerned.”
But Ryals’ family contends he was driven to smoke by a strong nicotine addiction and misled by tobacco industry fraud. During closings last week, Paige highlighted a range of tobacco industry initiatives - from marketing filtered cigarettes as safer to funding commissions designed to undercut studies on smoking’s hazards - that he said duped Ryals. “It is just one horrible thing after the other,” Paige said. “And it just keeps going, and going, and going.”
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