Miami, FL— A Florida state court judge declared a mistrial Friday afternoon after jurors announced themselves deadlocked in a case against R.J. Reynolds over the cancer death of a World War II vet.Yount v. R.J. Reynolds, 2007CA030346.
Judge David Miller, of Florida’s 11th Circuit, declared the mistrial following a little over four hours of deliberations and the jury’s statement that they were unable to reach a consensus on whether R.J. Reynolds was responsible for Leo Yount’s 1993 lung cancer death.
An Army officer during World War II, Yount began smoking as a teenager and successfully quit two years before his lung cancer diagnosis. Yount’s wife, Lois Yount, claims Reynolds’s role in a long-standing conspiracy to hide the dangers of smoking fueled her husband's nicotine addiction and led to his cancer.
During Thursday’s closings, the Lois Yount's attorney, Avera & Smith’s Rod Smith, walked jurors through internal documents he said showed Reynolds knew the dangers of smoking for decades in the 20th century but bankrolled various initiatives to cast doubt on medical evidence surrounding its risks. “They knew what they were selling,” Smith said. “[But] they continued to lie and conceal the truth, and create confusion.”
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.
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.
But Reynolds argued Yount was not influenced by its marketing and did not make a concerted effort to quit smoking in time to avoid his cancer. During Thursday’s closings King & Spalding’s Randall Bassett reminded jurors Lois Yount said she doubted whether anything Reynolds said regarding smoking’s health effects would have influenced her husband. “She knew that Mr. Yount was making his own decisions when it came to smoking,” Bassett said. “Whatever concealment there is that wasn’t known to Mr. Yount during his lifetime, Mrs. Yount says directly and emphatically, it’s not going to have made a difference to my husband.”
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
Lois Yount is represented by The Trop Law Group’s Adam Trop and Avera & Smith’s Rod Smith. .
R.J. Reynolds is represented by King & Spalding’s Randall Bassett.
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