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Tobacco Industry Lawyers Argue that Damages in Smoker’s Death are Excessive

May 23, 2011
Colson Hicks Eidson

Last week, attorneys for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. challenged a $15.75 million jury award in a case of a man who died from lung cancer in 1995. An R.J. Reynolds lawyer argued to the First District Court of Appeal that the compensatory and punitive damages awarded to the man’s widow were excessive. It is one of the thousands of cases stemming from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court ruling requiring that the courts hear the cases individually.

R.J. Reynolds told the court that the $12.5 million in punitive damages is excessive because the victim knew the dangers of smoking. The company’s attorney pointed out that he repeatedly referred to cigarettes as “cancer sticks.” An attorney for the widow pointed out that her husband began smoking at age 14, when the tobacco industry marketed cigarettes at teenagers without warning them of their addictive qualities.

R.J. Reynolds also argued that the jury’s award of $3.25 million in compensatory damages (reduced from $5 million) is excessive. The widow’s attorney countered by pointing out that she had to sell their home because she did not want to live there without her husband.

The case is one of the first to come before an appeals court after the Florida Supreme Court ruled that such cases are too personal for a class action lawsuit.

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