Litigation

Florida Jury Awards $1.5 Million To Smoker’s Widower, Begins Considering Punitive Damages (Watch Video Excerpts Of The Closing Statements)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.  — (Mealey’s) A Florida state court jury on July 13 awarded $1.5 million to the widower of a woman who died of lung cancer after years of smoking (John McCoy, et al. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., et al., No. 2008-CV-025806 (19), Fla. 17th Jud. Cir., Broward Co.). 

The jury, sitting in the Florida 17th Judicial Circuit Court, found that Glodine McCoy was addicted to cigarettes manufactured by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Philip Morris USA Inc. and Lorillard Tobacco Co. and that her addiction was a legal cause of her death from lung cancer.  The jury also found that McCoy’s addiction caused her to develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), peripheral vascular disease (PVD) and coronary artery disease (CAD).  In addition, the jury found that McCoy relied to her detriment on misrepresentations made by the tobacco industry about the health effects of cigarette smoking and that all three companies are liable for punitive damages.  Testimony in Phase II of the trial, punitive damages, got under way shortly after the verdict was read. 

Responsibility 

The jury apportioned responsibility at 25 percent for Reynolds, 20 percent for Philip Morris, 20 percent for Lorillard and 35 percent for McCoy. 

McCoy began smoking at age 13, smoking as much as a pack and a half a day.  She died in of lung cancer in July 1997 at age 70.  The suit, part of the Engle class action, was filed by McCoy’s widower, John McCoy.  The Engle class action was decertified after trial and a $145 billion verdict in 2006 by the Florida Supreme Court (Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 [Fla. 2006]) [enhanced opinion available to lexis.com subscribers] | Lexis Advance].  The court allowed approximately 700,000 class members to pursue individual claims using findings of fact from the original Engle trial. 

Plaintiff’s Closing  

In his closing statement, Scott Schlesinger of the Schlesinger Law Firm in Fort Lauderdale, representing McCoy, said, “The tobacco companies in this case want to pretend that Glodine McCoy wasn’t addicted.  But if you don’t buy that, they want a fallback position that she was addicted but it was her choice to continue to smoke long enough to get sick.  Therefore, it was her choice, and not her addiction, that caused PVD, COPD, heart disease, lung cancer and death.  But not one piece of evidence was presented by either side that Glodine’s addiction was her choice.  You know why?  Because nobody chooses addiction.  It’s often a terrible side-effect of the choice to smoke, just like addiction some people get from prescription pain relievers.  No one chooses that addiction, but it frequently happens as an unintended consequence of the use of the drug.  The point is that lawful, but dangerous drugs, can have awful side-effects, like addiction.”  

(Watch a video excerpt of Schlesinger’s closing statement.) 

“Addiction,” Schlesinger said, “is like a fish getting hooked.  The fish chooses to strike the bait and then gets caught by the hidden hook.  The hook starts pulling the fish along.  The fish starts fighting the hook and tries to get off.  Fish that are only hooked through the side of the lip may get away.  But those who are hooked deep through the side of the mouth are goners.  No fisherman would ever tell you that the fish was caught because he chose to get hooked.  The fish died because he didn’t see the hook in the first place.  The teen-aged Glodine McCoy . . . didn’t see the hook.” 

Defense Closing 

In his closing statement, Jeffrey Furr of  King and Spalding in Charlotte, N.C., representing Reynolds, told the jury that the evidence at produced at trial shows that McCoy continued to smoke even after being made aware of the health risks. 

(Watch a video excerpt of Furr’s closing statement.) 

“Mr. McCoy told you that she simply liked to smoke, she loved to smoke, she didn’t want to quit and she wanted to continue smoking,” Furr said.  “Mr. McCoy told you that there were instances in which he would approach Mrs. McCoy and tell her, ‘You’ve got to stop smoking.’  And her answer would be, ‘I’m not old.  I’m not sick.’  And he would tell her, ‘You’re going to get old and you’re going to get sick if you keep smoking.’  And her response would be to light a cigarette.”  

Judge John Murphy is presiding. 

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