Orlando, FL— R.J. Reynolds prevailed Thursday at trial over the lung cancer death of a 49-year-old smoker, when a Florida state court jury found the smoker completely responsible for the disease. Hochreiter v. R.J. Reynolds, 2015CA003926.
Jurors in Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit deliberated for more than five hours before concluding that, although Carrico’s nicotine addiction caused his lung cancer, he bore 100 percent of responsibility.
Carrico started smoking when he was 11 and was a regular smoker by the time he was a teen, continuing with 2-3 packs of cigarettes a day for more than 30 years. Carrico’s family contends R.J. Reynolds, makers of the Winston brand cigarettes Carrico smoked, is responsible for his death by hooking him to nicotine and conspiring to hide the dangers of cigarettes for decades.
During Wednesday’s closings, Morgan & Morgan’s Keith Mitnik suggested $12 million in compensatory damages, or $6 million each to Carrico’s wife and daughter, plus a finding that punitives were potentially warranted.
The case is among thousands of similar claims spun from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a Florida class action tobacco suit originally filed in 1994. After a finding for the plaintiff class, the state’s supreme court ultimately ruled that class members’ cases—”Engle progeny cases”—must be tried individually on the link between nicotine addiction and each smoker’s disease. Each plaintiff that proves those elements can then rely on jury findings in the original case, including the determination that tobacco companies had placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and had conspired to hide the dangers of smoking through much of the 20th century.
Thursday’s verdict is relatively rare among the class of Engle cases, in finding addiction and causation for class membership purposes but apportioning 100 percent of responsibility to the smoker at the heart of the case.
The week-long trial turned on whether Carrico’s own decisions or Reynolds’ actions in trying to hide the dangers were to blame for Carrico’s cancer.
During Thursday’s closings, Mitnik detailed evidence of Reynolds’ role in an industry-wide campaign to undermine the growing scientific evidence of smoking’s risks. Mitnik argued Carrico was duped by the industry’s tactics. “Terry Carrico fell smack into it,” Mitnik said. “If they had come clean… instead of creating all this confusion and doubt on purpose to make millions of dollars knowing people were going to be dying by the droves, we wouldn’t be here.”
But the defense argued Carrico knew cigarettes were dangerous, chose to smoke, and was not interested in quitting in time to avoid his lung cancer. During his closing Wednesday, Jones Day’s Jose Isasi reminded jurors of evidence Carrico had referred to cigarettes as “cancer sticks” from the time he was a youth, and never went more than a few hours without a cigarette. “He made the decision to smoke. No one forced him to smoke,” Isasi said. “The responsibility is Mr. Carrico’s. He made every decision about his own smoking.”
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephanie Hochreiter is represented by Morgan & Morgan’s Keith Mitnik and Antonio Luciano.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by Jones Day’s Jose Isasi and Jacqueline Pasek.
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