Viera, FL— R.J. Reynolds was hit with a $5 million verdict Tuesday for the role jurors found the company and its Camel cigarettes played in the lung cancer death of a Florida man. Morse v. R.J. Reynolds, 2008-CA-006848.
The jury, in Florida's 18th Circuit, deliberated for more than three hours before concluding Jay Morse’s addiction to cigarettes caused his 1995 lung cancer death, at 69. While jurors apportioned 70% of responsibility to Reynolds and 30% to Morse himself, they also found against Reynolds on conspiracy and fraud claims, meaning the $5 million award to Morse’s widow, Pearl, will not be reduced.
Tuesday’s award is half the $10 million Pearl Morse’s attorney, Freidin Brown’s Philip Freidin, requested in Monday’s closings. Freidin did not request punitives.
Morse smoked for decades, favoring Reynolds’s Camel cigarettes, and his family contends that the company’s involvement in a decades-long conspiracy to conceal the dangers of smoking hooked him to nicotine and ultimately led to his lung cancer.
The case is among thousands of Florida’s Engle-progeny lawsuits against the nation’s tobacco companies. Those cases stem from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision decertifying Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a class action tobacco suit originally filed in 1994. The supreme court ruled that Engle-progeny cases must be tried individually on specific elements, including addiction and causation. However, it found plaintiffs who proved those elements could rely on certain jury findings in the original case, including the determination that tobacco companies had placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and had conspired to hide the dangers of smoking through much of the 20th century.
The 13-day trial turned largely on what drove Morse to smoke for decades. Reynolds argues that Morse chose to smoke despite knowing the dangers of cigarettes for years. During Monday’s closings, King & Spalding’s Jason Keehfus reminded jurors of evidence Morse continued to smoke despite being warned of the dangers of cigarettes and urged to stop by his family and others.
“Mr. Morse wasn’t someone who was in doubt or confused about the dangers of smoking,” Keehfus said. “He smoked with his eyes wide open to the dangers.”
But Freidin argued expert testimony showed Morse was hooked to nicotine, and he contended warnings that Morse should quit to save his health were drowned out by decades of false messaging from the tobacco industry.
“The fraud was at least from 1954 through Jay’s death in 1995,” Freidin said. “Day after day the cigarette industry and R.J. Reynolds made it their business model to keep that fraud going.”
This is the fourth trial in the case covered by CVN cameras, but the first time it has gone to a verdict. Jurors deadlocked in the case’s last trial, in 2018.
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
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