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|BREAKING UPDATE| $1M Verdict Handed Down Against RJR for Smoker's Fatal Lung Cancer

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Feb 22, 2019, 12:27:47 PM

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Updated 2/22 at 4:32 p.m. to reflect the verdict.

West Palm Beach, FL—Jurors Friday awarded $1 million to the family of a Florida man who died of lung cancer they found was caused by R.J. Reynolds cigarettes and a conspiracy to hide the dangers of smoking. However, the jury rejected a claim for punitive damages in the case. Gafney-Hanners v. R.J. Reynolds, 2007-CA-020540.

Frank Gafney died in 1995 after more than 40 years of smoking. His family says he died from lung cancer that metastasized to his brain. They contend R.J. Reynolds’ part in a decades-long scheme to hide the dangers of smoking hooked Gafney to cigarettes and caused his fatal cancer.

During closing arguments Thursday, Searcy Denney's James Gustafson, representing Gafney's family, requested $ 8 million, plus a finding that punitives were warranted for Reynolds' conduct. "R.J. Reynolds knew nicotine in cigarettes was highly addictive, causes lung cancer, and they lied about it and they did that for money," Gustafson said.

Friday afternoon's verdict found Reynolds liable on a conspiracy claim, but cleared Reynolds on fraud.

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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 10-day trial focused largely on whether Gafney was hooked on cigarettes and what role that played, if any, in his cancer.

During Thursday’s closing arguments, Gustafson reminded jurors Gafney bore the classic hallmarks of an addicted smoker, including chain smoking and suffering withdrawal symptoms during quit attempts, across more than four-decades of smoking. “[His] lifetime exposure of nicotine and carcinogens in cigarettes is staggering,” Gustafson said, “when you look at what that kind of lifetime exposure does to a human being.”

Gustafson requested $8 million in compensatory damages plus a finding that punitives are warranted in the case.

But the defense contends choice, not addiction, drove Gafney’s smoking and its impact. During Thursday’s closings, King & Spalding’s Randall Bassett argued Gafney enjoyed smoking and did not want to quit smoking for most of his life. Bassett pointed to evidence that Gafney quit smoking for more than a year in order to receive a lower life insurance premium, before returning to cigarettes.

Bassett highlighted evidence he said showed that, if Gafney had not returned to cigarettes, he likely would not have developed cancer. “We know that Mr. Gafney had multiple opportunities to quit smoking,” Bassett said. “He always went back to smoking, because that’s what he wanted to do.

CVN will update this article as the story develops. 

Email Arlin Crisco at acrisco@cvn.com.

Related Information

Kathleen Hanners is represented by Searcy Denney’s James Gustafson and David Sales.

R.J. Reynolds is represented by King & Spalding’s Randall Bassett.   

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Topics: tobacco, Engle Progeny, Florida, Gafney-Hanners v. R.J. Reynolds