A jury in Pensacola, Florida returned a record verdict against tobacco company R.J. Reynolds. Cynthia Robinson brought the suit against R.J. Reynolds for the 1996 wrongful death of her husband, who was a longtime smoker. The jury awarded $16 million in compensatory damages and $23 billion in punitive damages.
Wrongful death is a death that occurs due to the negligence or misconduct of another. To prove negligence, the Plaintiff must show that the Defendant owed a duty to the deceased to use reasonable care, breached that duty, and, as a result, caused the decedent’s death. Damages must also be proven as a result of the death, as damages are not presumed in negligence cases.
The jury in Ms. Robinson’s case determined that R.J. Reynolds was negligent in informing her husband that smoking causes cancer and is highly addictive. According to Ms. Robinson’s attorney, the tobacco company knowingly marketed the cigarettes as safe despite the countless harmful chemicals the cigarettes contained. As a result, Mr. Robinson developed lung cancer and died.
Ms. Robinson’s case originated as part of the class-action suit Engle v. Liggett Group, 945 So. 2d 1246 (Fla. 2006), which originally awarded $145 billion to persons with smoking-related diseases and family members whose loved ones had died as a result of smoking. However, the case was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court. That Court did rule, however, that individual plaintiffs could use the jury’s findings that nicotine is addictive, smoking causes cancer, heart disease, and complications with pregnancy (among other diseases and complications), and the tobacco companies sold defective and unreasonably dangerous cigarettes. Each Plaintiff does, however, have to still show addiction to cigarettes and resulting death or illness. Ms. Robinson used those findings in filing her individual suit in 2008.
R.J. Reynolds indicated it intends to file post-trial motions to get the verdict reduced.
In addition to that blow, R. J. Reynolds (as well as Philip Morris USA Inc. and Lorillard Tobacco Co.) also endured The U.S. Supreme Court turning away its appeals last month of judgments similar to these, which relied on the Engle jury’s findings and Florida Supreme Court’s ruling that plaintiffs may rely on these findings to bring suit. These judgments the tobacco companies appealed totaled more than $70 million to Florida smokers or surviving family members.
If your loved one has suffered a wrongful death or you have suffered injuries as a result of the negligence of another, including a defective product such as cigarettes, don’t delay. Call the experienced attorneys at Brooks Law Group to evaluate your case and determine whether you are entitled to compensation.