Jacksonville, FL—Jurors delivered a $7.5 million verdict against R.J. Reynolds this week for the part they found the tobacco company played in the cancer death of a Florida truck driver. Olson v. R.J. Reynolds, 2008-CA-000396.
Floyd Olson, 58, a long-haul trucker, died from lung cancer in 1996 , after more than 40 years of smoking cigarettes. Olson’s son, Michael, claims his smoking, which favored R.J. Reynolds' Camel brand cigarettes was driven by nicotine addiction and Reynolds’ part in a conspiracy to hide the dangers of smoking.
Monday’s awards, handed down by jurors in the state’s 4th Circuit, in Duval County, includes $5 million in compensatories and $2.5 million in punitives.
The case is one of thousands of Florida’s Engle progeny lawsuits against the nation’s tobacco companies. They stem from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision decertifying Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a class-action tobacco suit originally filed in 1994. Although the state’s supreme court ruled that Engle-progeny cases must be tried individually, it found plaintiffs could rely on certain jury findings in the original case, including the determination that tobacco companies had placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and had conspired to hide the dangers of smoking through much of the 20th century.
In order to be entitled to those findings, however, each Engle progeny plaintiff must prove the smoker at the heart of their case suffered from nicotine addiction that legally caused a specific smoking-related disease.
Olson allegedly did not try to quit smoking until after he was diagnosed with cancer, and much of the trial centered on whether addiction or Olson’s own decisions fueled his smoking across more than four decades.
During closing arguments in the trial’s first phase on class membership, Jones Day’s Dennis Murphy argued Olson knew smoking was dangerous but never wanted to quit in time to avoid his cancer. “Mr. Olson wasn’t going to quit smoking if he didn’t make an attempt,” Murphy said. “He didn’t make an attempt so he didn’t quit.”
But Gordon Doner’s Gary Paige, representing Olson’s son, argued evidence, including Olson’s own heavy smoking behavior, showed Olson was a nicotine addict who was simply unable to quit. Paige noted Olson continued to smoke despite bouts with bronchitis ad his ultimate lung cancer. “Why would somebody continue doing this? [Do] they like the taste of that so much, that it tastes so good with your whole family begging you to stop?” Paige asked. “Clearly he was addicted to nicotine.”
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Olson is represented by Gordon & Doner’s Gary Paige and Dolan Dobrinsky Rosenblum’s Randy Rosenblum.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by Jones Day’s Dennis Murphy and Jesika French.
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