DeLand, FL—Florida jurors awarded nearly $1.3 million to the widow of a Marine Corps veteran for the role they found R.J. Reynolds and its cigarettes played in his death. Quackenbush v. R.J. Reynolds, 2007 12188 CIDL.
The award includes $930,000 in punitive damages imposed against Reynolds Monday for the 1997 lung cancer death of Robert Quackenbush, 49. Quackenbush’s widow, Kathleen, claims her husband, who began smoking Reynolds' Camel cigarettes while a teenage Marine, died because of his nicotine addiction and Reynolds’ part in a conspiracy to hide the dangers of cigarettes it knew were dangerous.
The 7th Judicial Circuit jury, in Volusia County, needed about six hours Friday to find Reynolds liable on the case’s product liability claims and conclude punitive damages were potentially warranted. However, jurors cleared Reynolds on fraud and conspiracy counts, finding Quackenbush did not rely on statements made by Reynolds or others in an alleged conspiracy to hide the dangers of smoking for much of the last century.
Friday’s decision awarded more than $358,000 in compensatory damages, but apportioned only 20 percent of responsibility for Quackenbush’s death on Reynolds. Quackenbush himself was found 80 percent responsible, potentially reducing the compensatory damage award.
The Quackenbush case against Reynolds is a rare Florida tobacco lawsuit that is not among the thousands of "Engle progeny" cases against the nation’s cigarette companies. Unlike in Engle progeny lawsuits, where the issue of negligence has already been decided and class membership is the primary issue, in the Quackenbush case, jurors were responsible for determining Reynolds’ liability on product liability claims.
The eight-day Quackenbush trial focused on the link between any danger of R.J. Reynolds cigarettes and Quackenbush’s cancer. During Thursday’s closings, Ogle Law’s William Ogle said Quackebush’s death was the result of Reynolds’ sale of cigarettes it knew were addictive and hazardous. “Would we expect a reasonably careful manufacturer to tell us the truth about the dangers of [its] product?” Ogle asked. “The evidence is that R.J. Reynolds did not [do that].”
But, the defense argued Quackenbush was responsible for his cancer because he knew the dangers of cigarettes and smoked by choice, not because of addiction. During Thursday’s closing arguments, Jones Day’s Dennis Murphy reminded jurors of evidence Quackenbush would refrain from smoking in certain situations and that he quit smoking twice, for six months each, before returning to cigarettes. “He didn’t fit the profile of people who are addicted,” Jones Day’s Kevin Murphy told jurors. “He had control over his smoking.”
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kathleen Quackenbush is represented by Ogle Law’s William Ogle.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by Jones Day’s Dennis Murphy.
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