Ray Persons tells jurors that Thomas Hardin was aware of the dangers of smoking throughout his life. Hardin, a decades-long smoker, died of COPD in 2012. On Thursday, jurors awarded his widow, Joyce Hardin, $776,000 in her suit claiming Persons' client, tobacco maker R.J. Reynolds,caused her husband's COPD and death by concealing the dangers of cigarettes.
Miami—A trucker’s widow was awarded $776,000 Thursday for the role she claimed R.J. Reynolds played in her husband’s fatal respiratory disease.
The verdict awarded a fraction of the $12 to $20 million in damages Joyce Hardin’s lawyers requested in closings Tuesday. It also apportioned 87% of responsibility to Thomas Hardin, the smoker at the case’s center, and 13% to R.J. Reynolds, which will likely further reduce the six-figure award.
Joyce Hardin claimed Reynolds’ decades-long concealment of smoking’s health hazards led her husband, Thomas, to begin smoking as a child, furthered his addiction to nicotine during his 50-year smoking history, and ultimately caused his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Doctors diagnosed Hardin, a long-haul truck driver throughout his working career, with COPD in 1996. He died from the disease in 2012.
In addition to questions of addiction and causation, the trial focused on Hardin's knowledge of smoking's dangers and whether he relied on Reynolds tactics designed to hide the dangers of cigarettes.
In closings Wednesday, The Ferraro Law Firm’s Allan Kaiser, representing Joyce Hardin, reminded jurors of evidence concerning Reynolds’ role in attempting to hide or minimize the dangers of smoking through most of the 20th century. Kaiser said Reynolds’ tactics, created a culture that supported smoking, “lured” Hardin to begin smoking as a child, and fueled an addiction that made it nearly impossible for him to quit later in life. "Had (Hardin) known the truth (about the link between smoking and various diseases), he would have been able to quit smoking prior to becoming addicted, and we wouldn't be here today. Because he wouldn't have gotten (COPD)," Kaiser said. "But he wasn't told that information, which R.J. Reynolds knew, and Thomas Hardin didn't."
However, the defense argued that Hardin never relied on specific Reynolds statements in making his smoking decisions. In closings Tuesday, King & Spalding's Ray Persons told jurors an "overabundance of information" linking smoking to health problems was available to Hardin throughout his life, including numerous stories in news media. "The bottom line is, you cannot conceal what is already known. If you know something, it can't be hidden from you," Persons said. "Now this (tobacco industry campaign of concealment) might apply to some other smoker at some other time and some other place, but it does not apply to Mr. Hardin."
The jury ultimately determined Hardin did not rely on Reynolds messaging, likely influencing its overall damage calculation.
Neither the parties' attorneys nor Reynolds representatives could immediately be reached for comment.
Arlin Crisco can be reached at email@example.com .
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