Tampa, FL— R.J. Reynolds was hit with a $3.75 million verdict this week for the part jurors found the company played in a Florida woman’s fatal respiratory disease. Durrance-Jones v. R.J. Reynolds, 2008-CA-009036.
The award includes $500,000 in compensatory damages awarded to Dorothy Durrance’s 2 children Tuesday and $3,250,000 in punitives imposed against Reynolds on Thursday.
Durrance, who was born in 1916, began smoking in the early 1930s and continued for about 50 years. She died in 2000, eight years after she was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Her children contend Reynolds is responsible for their mother’s respiratory disease by marketing cigarettes the company knew to be dangerous and addictive.
The case is one of thousands that stem from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a 1994 Florida state court class-action lawsuit against the nation’s tobacco companies. 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.
To be entitled to those findings, however, each plaintiff must prove the smoker at the heart of their case suffered from nicotine addiction that was the legal cause of a smoking-related disease.
The link between Durrance’s smoking and her respiratory disease played a key part in the 12-day trial.
Reynolds contends Durrance wanted to smoke and did not do enough to try to quit in time to avoid any impact it had. During Monday’s closings in the trial’s first phase, on class membership, Jones Day’s Jose Isasi told jurors evidence showed Durrance never seriously tried to stop smoking until 1984, and that she successfully quit that same year.
“If Mrs. Durrance made other decisions about her smoking earlier than she did, she could have changed the outcome,” Isasi said. “She wasn’t predestined to get COPD when she started smoking.”
But Searcy Denney’s James Gustafson told jurors addiction drove Durrance’s smoking across the decades. During Monday’s closings, Gustafson reminded jurors Dr. Richard Hurt, of the Mayo Clinic concluded Durrance was heavily addicted to nicotine, based on a review of her records.
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“The evidence here was clear that Dorothy Durrance was addicted, and it was unrebutted,” Gustafson said. “R.J. Reynolds brought you no testimony on this. They brought nothing.”
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Janice Jones is represented by Searcy Denney’s James Gustafson and David Sales, and The Whittemore Law Group’s John “Hutch” Pinder.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by Jones Day’s Jose Isasi.
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