Jury Deadlock on Addiction's Role in Fatal Cancer Leads to Mistrial in Suit Against RJR

Posted by Meghan Gourley on Nov 2, 2016 6:17:24 PM

Fort Myers, FL—Jurors Tuesday declared themselves at an impasse during deliberations in an $8.75-million trial against R.J. Reynolds over fatal complications from a smoker's lung cancer, causing a Florida judge to declare a mistrial in the case . Maloney v. R.J. Reynolds, 07-CA-015578. 

"Based on the communications of the jury, as well as having given the Allen charge, and that they are not able to come to a decision on question 1, and that they’ve reached an impasse, I am going to declare a mistrial, and we’ll reschedule it for trial at a later date," Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Krier announced in describing a jury deadlocked on whether nicotine addiction caused Carolyn Maloney's fatal lung cancer, as her husband John claims in his suit against R.J. Reynolds, makers of the cigarettes his wife smoked for decades.

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John Maloney contends the cigarette manufacturer's participation in a sweeping conspiracy to hide the dangers of smoking causing his wife's nicotine addiction and cancer. 

Maloney's attorney, Morgan & Morgan's Craig Stevens, requested $8.75 million in compensatory damages, plus a finding that punitives were warranted, during Monday's closings. 

The case is one of thousands of so-called Engle progeny cases stemming from the 1994 class action Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., class action lawsuit. Although jurors in that case found for the plaintiffs, the Florida Supreme Court later decertified the class. However, the high court ruled that the progeny cases may be tried individually. Plaintiffs like Maloney 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, if they prove the smoker at the heart of a case suffered from nicotine addiction that was the legal cause of a smoking-related disease. 

Jurors, who ultimately spent more than four hours in deliberations, first showed signs they were struggling reaching a verdict when they asked the judge to specify what definition of addiction they should use, and stated they couldn't "move on." After clarification and further deliberation, jurors told the judge they reached an impasse on question 1, which asked whether Carolyn Maloney was addicted to nicotine and whether the addiction was the legal cause of her lung cancer and death. Judge Krier responded by giving jurors the Allen charge, which instructs jurors to continue deliberating try to reach a verdict. Finally, after another hour of deliberations, the jury stated it was hopelessly deadlocked.

A smoker since she was a teenager, Carolyn Maloney received chemotherapy treatment after developing lung cancer in November 1996 at the age of 54. The cancer spread to her brain, however, leading to radiation treatment that left her with "white matter disease," said Craig Stevens of Morgan & Morgan, attorney for John Maloney. White matter disease is a wearing away of brain tissue that Stevens likened to dementia. "This was a long process, a long horrible death," Stevens said of Mrs. Maloney, who died in 2003 at the age of 61. "She didn't know where she was."  

Stevens said Maloney smoked anywhere from 1.5 to 3 packs a day throughout her life and was hopelessly addicted.

"Do you think someone gets up every morning, pulls out a cigarette right out of bed, smokes right before bed, smokes in the middle of the night when they get up if they're not addicted?"  Stevens asked in his closing argument.

But Reynolds attorney Steven Geise, of Jones Day, argued Carolyn Maloney made no truly concerted effort to quit in time to avoid the cancer and pointed to Maloney's medical records showing no signs she smoked after her late 1996 cancer diagnosis. 

"If you believe the medical records, she quit in '96, '97," Geise said in his closing. "When she was finally motivated to stop smoking, she did. And that proves: one, that she was able to stop smoking, and that proves that also, she could have quit sooner if she wanted to and if she was motivated to." 

Retrial in the case is expected sometime in 2017. 


Related information

Craig Stevens, of Morgan & Morgan, represents John Maloney.

Steven Geise, of Jones Day, represents R.J. Reynolds.

Watch the trial on demand. 

Topics: Negligence, Products Liability, tobacco, Florida, Maloney v. R.J. Reynolds