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$540K Verdict + Potential Punitives at Trial Against RJR Over Smoker's Lung Disease

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Jun 11, 2021 12:02:18 PM

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West Palm Beach, FL— Jurors Thursday awarded more than $540,000 to the family of a Florida man whose respiratory disease they found was caused by smoking R.J. Reynolds cigarettes, and they concluded punitive damages were potentially warranted against the tobacco giant for its part in causing the disease. Spurlock v. R.J. Reynolds, 2007-CA-023631.

The 15th Circuit, Florida state court jury deliberated for about 4 hours before concluding Lloyd Spurlock’s addiction to nicotine and more than half a century of smoking caused his lung disease. Wednesday’s verdict includes $500,000 for Spurlock’s pain and suffering and nearly $41,000 for his medical expenses, with jurors finding Reynolds’ link to Spurlock's smoking warranted further consideration of whether punitive damages should be imposed.  

Spurlock was a regular smoker by 1952 and smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for the next 60 years, favoring Reynolds’ Winston brand through much of that time. Spurlock was diagnosed with respiratory disease in 1995, and ultimately died in 2012 for reasons unrelated to the disease. 

His family contends Reynolds is responsible for Spurlock’s respiratory disease by concealing the dangers of smoking and ultimately hooking him to cigarettes.  

During Wednesday’s closings, the Spurlock family’s attorney, Richard Diaz, of Richard J. Diaz, P.A., requested about $6.5 million in compensatory damages, plus a finding that punitives were warranted. 

The 14-day, in-person proceeding leading to Thursday's verdict focused largely on what drove Spurlock’s smoking decisions. During Wednesday’s closings, Diaz walked jurors through documents he said showed Reynolds and other tobacco companies conspired for decades to undercut growing medical evidence surrounding smoking’s risks. 

Diaz argued tobacco industry messaging that falsely marketed light and filtered cigarettes as a safer alternative to unfiltered brands swayed Spurlock.

“The filters didn’t work. Every time Lloyd Spurlock picked [a filtered cigarette] up, he thought they did,” Diaz said. “‘Filter’ is what Lloyd believed was better for him, and healthier.”  

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. 

At trial, Reynolds argued that Spurlock knew the risks of cigarettes but chose to smoke and had no desire to quit in time to avoid his respiratory disease. During Wednesday’s closings, King & Spalding’s Jason Keehfus highlighted inconsistent statements from Spurlock’s wife and daughter concerning his smoking behavior, which Keehfus argued undermined their credibility.

And he said there was nothing to prove Reynolds messaging swayed Spurlock’s smoking decisions. “There is no evidence in this case that Mr. Spurlock saw or heard anything a tobacco company said or did concerning filtered or light cigarettes,” Keehfus said. “Where’s the statement that Mr. Spurlock relied on? There is none.”

Punitive proceedings are scheduled to begin Monday morning. 

Email Arlin Crisco at acrisco@cvn.com.

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