Lowell, MA— Jurors this week hit R.J. Reynolds with a $17 million-plus verdict for the part they found the tobacco company played in a Massachusetts woman’s lung cancer death. Coyne v. R.J. Reynolds, 1681CV00266.
The verdict includes more than $6.2 million in compensatories awarded Thursday and $11.275 million in punitives imposed Friday for the 2016 death of Pamela Coyne.
Coyne began smoking as a teenager and continued for decades, smoking Reynolds’s Winston brand for years. Her family claims the company’s designed cigarettes it knew were dangerous and addictive and engaged in marketing campaigns designed to undercut evidence of smoking’s risks.
Jurors apportioned 50.42% of fault to Reynolds and 49.58% to Coyne, with at least 10 of the 12 jurors finding Reynolds liable on defective design, negligent marketing, and conspiracy claims, among other theories.
The three-week trial focused in part on the role Coyne played in her smoking decisions. During Tuesday’s closing arguments in the trial’s first phase, Jones Day’s Frank Bayuk told jurors there was no evidence Coyne would have smoked allegedly safer cigarette designs instead of Reynolds’s Winstons. Bayuk said Coyne’s own husband said she did not pay attention to ultra-low nicotine designs and rejected e-cigarettes because she didn’t like the taste. “Even when she’s diagnosed with lung cancer and she knows cigarettes caused harm to her, she prefers the taste of the combustible cigarettes over a much, much safer design.” Bayuk said.
Bayuk argued that Coyne knew the risks of smoking for decades but was not interested in quitting, and rejected pleas from her family and others to stop. “She opts to keep exposing herself to the risks, not because of nicotine, and not because she doesn’t know the risks, but because she likes the taste of Winston,” Bayuk said. “She hoped that she would be one of the lucky ones that doesn’t get cancer.”
But the Coyne family’s attorney, Gordon & Partners’ Gary Paige, argued Coyne began smoking as a teenager, duped by a scheme to market cigarettes to youth. “The evidence is overwhelming that they targeted these kids,” Paige said, walking jurors through an array of Winston commercials and advertisements in play when Coyne was a teen.
Paige added Coyne’s rejection of her family’s pleas to quit smoking over the years supported his contention that she believed tobacco industry messaging designed to undermine evidence of smoking's risks. “They wanted people to rely upon those statements,” Paige said, detailing evidence of a decades-long marketing campaign he said cast doubt on those who warned against smoking.
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
The Coyne family is represented by Gordon & Partners’ Gary Paige.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by Jones Day’s Frank Bayuk.
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