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Florida Verdicts

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Smoking cigarettes caused husband's cancer, death: wife

Amount:

$21,500,000

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

Florida

Venue:

Sarasota County

Court:

Sarasota County Circuit Court, 12th

Injury Type(s):

other-death; cancer-lung

Case Type:

Products Liability - Tobacco, Failure to Warn, Manufacturing Defect

Case Name:

Barbara Jean Johnston, Personal Representative of the Estate of Franklin James Johnston v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Philip Morris USA Inc, Lorillard Tobacoo Company, Lorillard Inc, Liggett Group LLC and Vector Group LTD Inc, No. 2014-CA-4023

Date:

November 3, 2016

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Barbara Jean Johnston (Female), 

Estate of Franklin James Johnston (deceased) (Male, 60 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Gary M. Paige; Gordon & Doner, PA; Davie, FL, for Barbara Jean Johnston, Estate of Franklin James Johnston (deceased)

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Jack Henningfield; Ph.D.; Addiction Medicine; Baltimore, MD called by: Gary M. Paige ■ Luis Villa; M.D.; Oncology; Miami, FL called by: Gary M. Paige ■ David Burns; M.D.; Psychiatry; San Diego, CA called by: Gary M. Paige ■ Robert Proctor; Ph.D.; Historian; Stanford, CA called by: Gary M. Paige

Defendant(s):

Lorillard Inc, 

Liggett Group LLC, 

Vector Group LTD Inc, 

Philip Morris USA Inc, 

Lorillard Tobacoo Company, 

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company

Defense Attorney(s):

Stephen J. Kaczynski; Jones Day; Cleveland, OH, for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company ■ None reported; for Lorillard Inc, Liggett Group LLC, Vector Group LTD Inc, Philip Morris USA Inc, Lorillard Tobacoo Company ■ Jacqueline M. Pasek; Jones Day; Cleveland, OH, for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company

Facts:

In March 2010, plaintiff Franklin James Johnston, 60, died of lung cancer in Fort Lauderdale. Plaintiff Barbara Johnston, representing the estate of her husband, sued R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Philip Morris USA Inc., Lorillard Tobacco Company, Lorillard Inc., Liggett Group LLC, and Vector Group LTD Inc. alleging strict products liability, defective product, negligence, fraudulent concealment, and conspiracy to fraudulently conceal material information. The estate alleged that the sued parties' sale of defective cigarettes, negligence, fraud, and conspiracy caused Johnston to become addicted to cigarettes containing nicotine, and that his addiction caused him to develop lung cancer. The case stemmed from a Florida state-court class-action, Engle v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. In 2000, a jury in that case rendered a $145 billion punitive damages verdict in favor of a class of Florida smokers allegedly harmed by their addiction to nicotine. In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court reversed that award and decertified the class, but permitted potentially thousands of lawsuits to be filed. For plaintiffs to be allowed to rely on jury findings in the Engle litigation, they must establish that they would qualify as members of the Engle class of plaintiffs. This includes proving that there had been a manifestation of the disease due to smoking by the date of Nov. 21, 1996. Prior to trial, Philip Morris, Lorillard Tobacco, Lorillard Inc., Liggett Group LLC, and Vector Group LTD Inc. were dismissed from the case. The trial proceeded only against R.J. Reynolds. Estate's counsel alleged that Johnston began smoking at age 15 -- before the government-mandated warnings on cigarette cartons and packs. Johnston was diagnosed with COPD in 1985. In 1994, Johnston was diagnosed with lung cancer. The estate's public health expert opined that the tobacco companies sued engaged in fraud and conspired to conceal the health effects of cigarettes and their addictive nature. He opined that R.J. Reynolds utilized mass advertising, including those that targeted youth, such as Johnston. The estate's addiction expert, a psychiatrist, testified that Johnston was addicted to cigarettes. He also testified that the addiction to cigarettes containing nicotine caused his lung cancer. Estate's counsel claimed that Johnston's addiction was so strong that it caused him to begin smoking the first thing in the morning, to awake in middle of the night to smoke, and to smoke even when he was sick. Defense counsel denied all of the estate's claims, contending that Johnston was not addicted to cigarettes containing nicotine. The defense further claimed that Johnston chose to smoke knowing the risks and bore legal responsibility for the consequences of that decision. Defense counsel argued that he could have quit smoking anytime he chose, if he really wanted to. The defense claimed Johnston continued smoking, despite being warned repeatedly about the dangers of smoking during his lifetime.

Injury:

Johnston's wife sought to recover damages for loss of society, companionship, protection, and her own pain and suffering, as a result of her husband's death. The estate also sought punitive damages against R.J. Reynolds to punish the tobacco company for its past behavior and send a message to other tobacco companies that such behavior cannot go unpunished. The defense argued that punitive damages were not warranted because the tobacco company has changed and should not be held responsible for behavior in the past.

Result:

The jury found Johnston was addicted to cigarettes containing nicotine and that such addiction was a legal cause of his lung cancer and death. The jury found that Johnston reasonably relied to his detriment on the concealment or omission of material information concerning the health effects and/or addictive nature of smoking cigarettes by R.J. Reynolds and that Johnston's reliance was a legal cause of his lung cancer and death. The jury found R.J. Reynolds 90 percent liable and Johnston 10 percent negligent. The jury determined that Barbara Johnston's compensatory damages totaled $7.5 million. The jury determined that punitive damages were warranted against R.J. Reynolds and assessed $14 million in punitive damages against R.J. Reynolds. Hence, the total award was $21.5 million. Because of the finding of the intentional tort, the award was not reduced for comparative negligence.

Barbara Jean Johnston: $7,500,000 Personal Injury: loss of companionship and mental pain and suffering; Estate of Franklin James Johnston (deceased):$14,000,000 Personal Injury: Punitive Exemplary Damages

Trial Information:

Judge:

Diana Moreland

Trial Length:

7  days

Trial Deliberations:

3  hours

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff's counsel. Defense counsel did not respond to the reporter's phone calls.