Tampa, FL— Jurors last week handed down a $9.75 million verdict at trial against R.J. Reynolds over an 80-year-old former smoker's death from respiratory disease. Long v. R.J. Reynolds, 2008-CA-000499. The Florida 13th Circuit Court jury deliberated late Thursday afternoon and all day Friday before reaching its verdict, which concluded nicotine addiction and Reynolds cigarettes caused Carolyn Long’s death in 2020.
Long, who started smoking in the 1950s, continued for decades before quitting in 2002. Her husband, John, contends her respiratory disease was caused by Reynolds’ participation in a conspiracy to hide the dangers of smoking, and that the company was responsible for hooking Long to cigarettes.
Jurors apportioned 60% of responsibility to Reynolds, 30% to Long herself, and 10% to cigarette maker Philip Morris, which was not a party at trial. However, jurors also found against Reynolds on conspiracy and fraud claims, meaning damages will not likely be reduced by the responsibility apportioned to Long.
The lawsuit is one of thousands of so-called Engle-progeny cases, claims spun from a 1990s class action by Florida smokers against the nation’s tobacco companies. After a trial court verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, the Florida Supreme Court decertified the class, ruling individual plaintiffs could recover only if they proved the smoker at the heart of each case was addicted to cigarettes that caused a disease.
R.J. Reynolds contends that Long smoked by choice, not because of addiction. During Thursday's closings, Jones Day’s Elliot Pedrosa reminded jurors of evidence he said showed Long controlled her smoking throughout her life, including testimony that she easily refrained from smoking around family members and evidence that she successfully quit in 2002.
“Mrs. Long smoked when she wanted to, where she wanted to, and when she wanted to quit, she did that, too,” Pedrosa said. “Smoking didn’t control Mrs. Long. Mrs. Long controlled her smoking.”
But the Long family’s attorneys argued Long was hooked to cigarettes for decades and taken in by tobacco industry marketing. During Thursday's closings, Newlands & Clark’s Shane Newlands reminded jurors Long started smoking more cigarettes after switching to a “Light” brand he said was falsely marketed as safer.
“When you smoke more, and smoke them deeper into your lungs, it causes more lung damage. It’s not safer,” Newlands said. “It was another lie that [Carolyn] Long fell victim to.”
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