Miami—Jurors awarded $7.25 million to a Florida man for the heart disease it found was caused by a decades-long addiction to R.J. Reynolds cigarettes. Rouse v. R.J. Reynolds, 2017-CA-017202.
The award includes $5 million in compensatory damages and $2.25 million in punitives imposed against Reynolds for the part jurors found the company played in the heart disease that forced Paul Rouse to undergo a triple bypass surgery in 1999, when he was 45.
Rouse, now 64, contends Reynolds’ role in a scheme to hide the dangers of smoking throughout the latter half of the 1900s helped hook him to the company’s cigarettes and ultimate caused his heart disease.
Rouse’s attorney, The Alvarez Law Firm’s Alex Alvarez, had requested $8.5 million in damages during closings of the trial’s first phase last week, and $15 million in punitive damages during closings of the trial’s second phase, on Monday.
The case is one of thousands that stem from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a 1994 Florida state court class-action lawsuit against Reynolds and the nation's other tobacco companies, in which jurors found for the plaintiffs. The state's supreme court later decertified the class, but ruled Engle progeny cases may be tried individually. Plaintiffs are entitled to the benefit of the jury's findings in the original verdict, including the determination that tobacco companies placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and hid the dangers of smoking.
The eight-day-long first phase of trial, focusing on class membership and compensatory damages, centered largely on whether Reynolds’ actions or Rouse’s own choices were to blame for his heart disease.
Reynolds attorneys contended Rouse chose to smoke and could have stopped in time to avoid his heart disease. During closings last week, King & Spalding’s Cory Hohnbaum told jurors Rouse knew cigarettes were dangerous as far back as 1966, decades before he was diagnosed with heart disease. “He knew all cigarettes caused disease and death. That’s what he said on the witness stand,” Hohnbaum said. “All of that stuff that you saw. All of the stuff that led the Engle jury to conclude that R.J. Reynolds and other companies concealed information, it didn’t matter to him.”
But Alvarez contended Rouse, who favored Reynolds’ Winston brand cigarettes, was duped by a sweeping scheme to undermine scientific evidence of smoking’s risks, and said the company was to blame for knowingly hooking him to nicotine as part of its business model. “They produced a product that they knew was addictive, they knew caused disease, they knew was harming people, they knew was killing people,” Alvarez said in closings of the trial’s first phase. “They know that most people would like to stop and they can’t.”
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
Paul Rouse is represented by The Alvarez Law Firm’s Alex Alvarez.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by King & Spalding’s Cory Hohnbaum.
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