Portland, OR— An Oregon jury handed down a $1.6 million verdict this week against R.J. Reynolds, after finding the tobacco company responsible for a long-time smoker’s death. Thorpe v. R.J. Reynolds, 18CV36607.
The Multnomah County Circuit Court jury deliberated more than 15 hours across three days before concluding Reynolds’ negligent cigarette design led to the 2016 lung cancer death of Richard Thorpe. However, jurors apportioned 50% of responsibility each to Reynolds and Thorpe, likely cutting the post-verdict award in half.
The jury also rejected the Thorpe family’s strict liability and fraud claims, as well as their claim for punitive damages.
Richard Thorpe started smoking as a 15-year old in the late 1960s and continued smoking two or more packs of cigarettes a day for more than 40 years. His family contends Reynolds designed and marketed cigarettes they knew were addictive and dangerous. However, the applicable limitations period focused the Thorpe family’s claims on the period after August 2008.
Thorpe’s smoking decisions, as opposed to Reynolds conduct, proved to be a key battle line in the 12-day trial. During last week’s closings, the Thorpe family’s attorney, Michael Alvarez, of The Alvarez Law Firm, reminded jurors of evidence he said showed Reynolds studied nicotine and engineered their cigarettes to be as addictive as possible. Alvarez said that design hooked Thorpe to cigarettes and led him to fail in multiple quit attempts.
“They’re not selling cigarettes,” Alvarez said. “They’re selling addiction.”
But Reynolds argued Thorpe did not do enough to quit cigarettes in time to avoid his cancer. During his closing argument Jones Day’s Steven Geise said Thorpe made, at most, one quit attempt every 15 years on average, and he noted Thorpe never threw away his cigarettes, while evidence showed he continued to smoke during at least some of those claimed quit attempts.
“In his words and in his actions with respect to smoking,” Geise said, “he was not interested in quitting.”
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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