This story didn’t get as much attention as I would’ve have expected, I think because it’s actually becoming routine.
A jury last week awarded a family who lost their wife and mother to lung cancer in 1995 after years of smoking a $37.5 award from R.J. Reynolds.
This judgement is part of the old Engle Florida Supreme Court case. In that case, a huge class action settlement — $145 billion — was awarded to a number of smokers for the tobacco industry’s long and sordid history of lying about the addictiveness of nicotine and for marketing to kids.
The tobacco industry filed an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court and the court threw the award out. At the time — 2006 — it appeared to be a big victory for Big Tobacco, but it was a mixed ruling. The Supreme Court threw out the award, but did allow each of the plaintiffs to file individual lawsuits against the tobacco industry.
That has turned out to be a big deal. There were a total of 8,000 individual lawsuits filed in Florida as a result of the ruling, so Big Tobacco is constantly in court in Florida, and repeatedly losing jury awards. $37.5 million won’t break RJR, but multiply $37.5 million by 8,000 — now you’re hurting the industry … big time. So far, $360 million damages have been awarded as a result of the Engle ruling — nowhere near the original $145 billion number, but hurting the industry nonetheless (You know the biggest reason cigarettes are more expensive now than 10 years ago? It’s not cigarette taxes, it’s legal costs.)
R..J Reynolds tried to use the old hoary defence of “it was her choice to smoke,” but that defence has failed time and again in these jury awards, for two reasons A) Big Tobacco was knowingly selling a toxic, poisonous and physically addictive product .. and lied for decades about the addictive nature of nicotine, and B) Because of the industry’s long and sordid history of marketing to teens (R.J. Reynolds are the guys who invented Joe Camel, remember.). It’s interesting reading a lot of the comments on this story about what BS the ruling is because it was her choice to smoke. No, they don’t get it. That defence doesn’t carry much weight with juries or judges, the fact is because they lied and covered up the dangers of their product, the tobacco industry is still liable for damages … “it was their choice to smoke” isn’t going to work. I tried making that point on that thread at HP; I got a few likes but no responses.
The woman who died in this case — Laura Grossman — was only 38 when she died of lung cancer in 1995.
R.J. Reynolds (which makes Philip Morris look like choir boys by comparison sometimes) also made the absolutely despicable defence that Grossman’s death was her husband’s fault because he didn’t do more to make her quit.
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company has appealed the verdict, claiming that Grossman’s husband, Jan Grossman, should be held responsible for Laura’s death for “failing to change another person’s course of conduct.” As part of the court ruling, Grossman’s husband and two children were also awarded $15 million in compensatory damages.
That just shows how utterly venal these guys are, especially R.J. Reynolds.
R.J. Reynolds will definitely appeal, the company always does. And they might get the award reduced; Big Tobacco has had some success there, but not as often as in the past.