Fort Lauderdale, FL— R.J. Reynolds was hit with a $12.5 million verdict Wednesday for the role Florida state court jurors found the company played in the death of a former police officer who smoked for decades. Snyder v. R.J. Reynolds, 2008-CV-019467.
The 17th Circuit Court jury, in Broward County, deliberated about five hours before concluding that nicotine addiction and Reynolds cigarettes caused James McHugh’s 2009 death from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
McHugh, a police officer who served in departments from Pennsylvania to Florida, smoked for more than four decades. His family contends that Reynolds and other tobacco companies conspired to hide the dangers of smoking throughout much of the 20th century, hooking McHugh to cigarettes and ultimately causing his respiratory disease.
Wednesday’s award equaled what the McHugh Family’s attorney, Rosen Injury Law's Eric Rosen, requested during Tuesday's closings.
Jurors, who rejected a claim for punitive damages, found Reynolds 70% responsible for McHugh’s death and apportioned the remaining 30% to McHugh himself. However, because jurors found Reynolds liable on fraud and conspiracy claims, the $12.5 million compensatory verdict will not be reduced.
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 individual class members must each prove a link between nicotine addiction and smoking-related disease. Plaintiffs that prove 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.
The nine-day trial turned on what led McHugh to smoke for much of his life. Reynolds argued McHugh chose to smoke, despite knowing the risks of cigarettes. During Tuesday’s closings, King & Spalding's Jeffrey Furr reminded jurors that none of McHugh’s doctors diagnosed him as addicted to nicotine. And in challenging plaintiff’s claim that McHugh smoked up to two packs of cigarettes a day, he pointed to evidence that McHugh smoked primarily at work and rarely around his wife.
“Mr. McHugh controlled his smoking. His smoking did not control him,” Furr said. “He controlled when he smoked, where he smoked, and who he smoked with.”
But Rosen argued McHugh was so addicted to nicotine he continued to smoke despite being on supplemental oxygen. And he noted expert testimony concluding that McHugh was a nicotine addict.
“This was a man who didn’t want to smoke. He didn’t enjoy smoking. There was no evidence or testimony this man enjoyed smoking,” Rosen said. “This is a man that wanted to quit.”
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The McHugh family is represented by Rosen Injury Law's Eric Rosen and Kelley | Uustal's Catherine Darlson.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by King & Spalding’s Jeffrey Furr.
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