After finding that a man who died from laryngeal cancer was addicted to cigarettes made by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., a Florida jury on July 28 awarded his widow $4 million in damages.
Bertie Thomas sued R.J. Reynolds in the 17th Judicial Circuit Court for Broward County pursuant to the findings of Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., which was decertified after trial in 2006 by the Florida Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court allowed approximately 700,000 class members to pursue individual claims using findings of fact from the original Engle trial. Thomas claimed that her husband, Martin Thomas, was addicted to cigarettes made by R.J. Reynolds and that he relied on the misinformation provided by the tobacco company about the harmfulness of cigarettes which caused his laryngeal cancer leading to his death.
The jury found that Martin Thomas’ addiction to cigarettes made by R.J Reynolds and the misleading statements pertaining to these cigarettes was a legal cause of his death from laryngeal cancer. The jury found that R.J. Reynolds was 55 percent responsible for Martin Thomas’ cancer and death, while Martin Thomas was 45 percent responsible. The jury awarded Bertie Thomas $4 million for loss of companionship but determined that punitive damages were not warranted, resulting in a $2.2 million payout for the widow.
Judge John Murphy presided over the trial. Eric Rosen of Kelley/Uustal in Fort Lauderdale, representing Bertie Thomas, told the jury that Martin Thomas’ addiction showed through his struggle to quit smoking. “Two packs a day for forty years,” Rosen said. Rosen also mentioned that Martin Thomas could not get through a single movie without smoking and even smoked on his deathbed. “How about the amount of times that he tried to quit,” Rosen said. “Bertie said more than 20.”
Corey Hohnbaum of King & Spalding in Charlotte, N.C., representing R.J. Reynolds, told the jury during closing arguments that Bertie Thomas changed her testimony to suit her needs. Hohnbaum told the jury that during her deposition, Bertie Thomas said that her husband knew that smoking was bad for his health in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. However, during the trial, Bertie Thomas said that her husband did not know that smoking was bad for him. “You can ask yourself ‘why did Mrs. Thomas change her testimony on key facts?’” Hohnbaum said. “But regardless of what you think about why that happened in this case, you cannot escape the conclusion that somebody who is testifying to ‘X’ one day and ‘Y’ to the other is not giving you reliable evidence.”
Nonetheless, the jurors sided in the favor of the plaintiff, Bertie Thomas. R.J. Reynolds does not comment on litigation as a matter of policy. The company filed post-trial motions asking the judge to toss the verdict or to hold a new trial. If a loved one has died due to negligence of another party, call and talk to a Ft. Lauderdale negligence attorney today.