Settlement During Punitive Phase Follows $2M Compensatory Verdict Against RJR for Smoker's Fatal Cancer

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Jan 25, 2019 9:13:12 AM


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New Port Richey, FL— Days after jurors handed down a $2 million compensatory verdict against R.J. Reynolds for its role in a Florida woman’s cancer death, and shortly after punitive proceedings opened in the case Tuesday, the tobacco giant settled with the woman’s family. Kelley v. R.J. Reynolds, 2017CA002490.

Terms of the settlement were not made immediately available.

The Tuesday settlement came shortly after punitive proceedings opened against Reynolds for the 1997 death of Helen Kelley, a smoker who favored the company's Pall Mall cigarettes for much of her life.

Last week, jurors in Florida’s Sixth Judicial Circuit concluded Helen Kelley died of lung cancer caused by a decades-long addiction to cigarettes and fueled by Reynolds’ role in a scheme to hide the dangers of smoking for much of the 20th century. That decision awarded $2 million in compensatory damages to Kelley’s husband, Dan, and found punitives potentially warranted.

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The case is one of thousands that stem from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a 1994 Florida state court class-action lawsuit against Reynolds and the nation's other tobacco companies, in which jurors found for the plaintiffs. The state's supreme court later decertified the class, but ruled Engle progeny cases may be tried individually. Plaintiffs are entitled to the benefit of the jury's findings in the original verdict, including the determination that tobacco companies placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and hid the dangers of smoking.

To be entitled to those findings, however, each plaintiff must prove the smoker at the heart of their case suffered from nicotine addiction that was the legal cause of a smoking-related disease.

During the six-day, first phase of trial, on class membership and compensatory damages, attorneys dueled over what responsibility Kelley bore for her smoking and cancer..

Reynolds attorneys argued Kelley chose to smoke despite knowing the inherent risks. During last week’s closings in the trial’s first phase, Jones Day’s Dennis Murphy told jurors Kelley was largely uninterested in quitting smoking. And, he reminded jurors that news of smoking’s hazards led her husband to quit smoking sometime in the 1970s, while the couple was married. Murphy maintained that, if Kelley stopped smoking when her husband quit, she likely would not have developed cancer. “What’s the clearest evidence of that in this courtroom? Mr. Kelley,” Murphy said. “He’s right by her side, he quits, he’s sitting here today.”

But plaintiff’s attorneys argued Helen Kelley was hooked on cigarettes and duped by a tobacco industry messaging. During last week’s closings, Paul Knopf Bigger’s Brent Bigger reminded jurors of internal documents showing Reynolds and other companies designed cigarettes to be as addictive as possible while they undermined studies showing smoking’s dangers. “Addiction is not an accident,” Bigger said. “It’s not an accident that folks start smoking, experimenting, and then get addicted.”

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Related Information

Dan Kelley is represented by Alley Clark & Greiwe’s James Clark and Paul Knopf Bigger’s Brent Bigger.

R.J. Reynolds is represented by Jones Day’s Dennis Murphy.

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Topics: tobacco, Engle Progeny, Florida, Kelley v. R.J. Reynolds