R.J. Reynolds Win in Widow's $9M COPD Suit Highlights Engle Review for the Week of May 18

Posted by Arlin Crisco on May 22, 2015 7:00:12 PM


Jeffrey Furr tells jurors evidence showed Willie Gray smoked by choice rather than because of addiction. Jurors found in favor of Reynolds in a suit by Gray's widow, Ethel Gray. 

Gray v. R.J. Reynolds

Pensacola, FL—R.J. Reynolds prevailed Thursday in a $9 million suit brought by a widow who claimed her husband’s decades of smoking led to his lung and artery disease.

Watch Video from Tobacco Trials The six-member jury needed about three hours to reach a verdict for the tobacco maker, finding that Ethel Gray’s husband, Willie Gray, had not been addicted to Reynolds cigarettes. Addiction is one of several elements Engle progeny plaintiffs must prove.

Willie Gray began smoking in the 1950s with hand-rolled cigarettes filled with pipe tobacco, but started purchasing Reynolds-brand Winston cigarettes by the 1960s, according to his wife. Ethel Gray, 81, claimed her husband smoked at least a pack of cigarettes a day for more than 25 years before ultimately quitting in the 1990s. Willie Gray suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary artery disease, and peripheral vascular disease, which his wife claimed was caused by his smoking, prior to his death.

Addiction was a central point of dispute in the case. During closing statements Wednesday, Gray’s attorney, Richard Diaz, reminded jurors addiction expert Dr. David Burns concluded Gary was addicted to nicotine and that Gray’s behavior supported a finding of addiction. Diaz reminded jurors of testimony that Gray could not go more than an hour without having a cigarette, would “chain smoke” by lighting one cigarette from the spent butt of another, and would wake up in the middle of the night to smoke.

“There is no definition for addiction in the legal instructions. But you know what, folks, you’ve got your reason and common sense,” Diaz told jurors. “And when it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it’s a duck.”

However, the defense contended that Gray smoked Reynolds-brand cigarettes by choice rather than because of addiction. During closing arguments, King & Spalding’s Jeffrey Furr said evidence established that Gray had no desire to stop smoking from the 1950s through the 80s and successfully quit smoking the first time he tried, in 1993.   

Furr also questioned medical evidence diagnosing Gray as a nicotine addict. Furr noted that Burns’ finding of nicotine addiction did not rely on criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5, which Furr argued was the typical test for nicotine addiction. Furr reminded jurors that, by contrast, defense expert Dr. William Giakas concluded Gray had not been addicted to cigarettes based on DSM V criteria.

“As Dr. Giakas walked through with you for hours reviewing Mr. Gray’s smoking behavior, there was zero evidence of any clinical significance or impairment attached to Mr. Gray’s smoking,” Furr told jurors.

“In fact, as Dr. Giakas explained, Mr. Gray was able to control his smoking and quit any time he chose to do so.”

Neither the attorneys for the parties nor Reynolds representatives could immediately be reached for comment. 

Arlin Crisco can be reached at

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Topics: Negligence, Products Liability, tobacco, Engle Progeny, Florida, Engle Progeny Review, Gray v. R.J. Reynolds