Woburn, MA— Jurors last week issued a $20.7 million verdict against R.J. Reynolds for the mouth cancer a Massachusetts man developed after decades of smoking. Reppucci v. R.J. Reynolds, et al., 2081CV02095.
The Middlesex County, Massachusetts Superior Court jury handed down the award after finding cigarettes made by R.J. Reynolds and its current subsidiary, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Co., were defectively designed and caused Joseph Reppucci’s 2018 oropharyngeal cancer.
The verdict also found Reynolds liable on negligent marketing, misrepresentation, and conspiracy claims. Jurors cleared defendant DeMoulas Supermarkets, which sold cigarettes to Reppucci.
Reppucci, 70, smoked Reynolds’ "Winston" and "Winston Light" brands for years before switching to Santa Fe Natural Tobacco’s "Natural American Spirit" varieties in the 1990s. He claims a 2018 bout of oropharyngeal cancer (following a 2002 bout with the disease) was caused by Reynolds’ false marketing and by dangerous cigarettes designed to be addictive.
Last week’s award includes $14.4 million for Reppucci’s pain and suffering and $5.7 million to his wife, along with more than $685,000 for his medical expenses.
The trial focused in large part on what drove Reppucci to smoke through much of his life. Reynolds contends cigarettes are inherently dangerous and Reppucci continued to smoke for years, despite knowing the risks involved.
During closings, Jones Day’s John Walker, representing Reynolds, reviewed evidence he said showed cigarettes, by their very nature, were dangerous and that proposed alternative designs were not viable or would fundamentally change the product so that it was no longer considered a cigarette.
Walker also walked jurors through a timeline of Reppucci’s smoking history, noting he was warned against cigarettes by sources ranging from doctors to messages on the cigarette packs themselves. However, Walker said Reppucci’s attempts to stop smoking in time to avoid his mouth cancer were inconsistent.
“The reality is that Mr. Reppucci could have done more to stop smoking and to avoid his 2018 cancer,” Walker said.
But Reppucci’s attorney, Dolan Dobrinsky Rosenblum Bluestein’s Randy Rosenblum, countered with evidence he said showed that Reynolds engineered its cigarettes to be as addictive as possible, then worked for decades as part of a broader tobacco industry conspiracy to conceal the dangers of smoking.
Rosenblum argued that evidence showed Reynolds’ actions led Reppucci to become so hooked to the nicotine in cigarettes that he failed in multiple quit attempts across decades, and despite the aid of smoking cessation drugs. Rosenblum added that alternative cigarette designs, such as those with nicotine levels unlikely to addict smokers, could have led to a different result for Reppucci.
“If Mr. Reppucci had used these alternative designs, he would have avoided more likely than not… his oropharyngeal cancer,” Rosenblum said.
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
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