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Florida Jury Awards $21 Million To Widow Of Smoker With Lung Cancer (Watch Closing Arguments Video Excerpts)

MIAMI —  (Mealey’s) A jury in Florida’s 11th Judicial Circuit Court returned a $21 million verdict Nov. 18 for the widow of a man who died of lung cancer after smoking for 45 years (Diane Schleider, et al. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., No. 13-2013-CA-006984, Fla. 11th Jud. Cir., Dade Co.). 

The jury found that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. was responsible for the death of Andrew Schleider in a wrongful death action brought by his widow, Diane Schleider. 

Schleider, who died of lung cancer in May 1997 at the age of 56, began smoking at the age of 11 and eventually smoked two packs of cigarettes a day.  Diane Schleider alleged that he was addicted to cigarettes manufactured by R.J. Reynolds and was unable to quit, despite a number of attempts, including going cold turkey, using gum and patches and undergoing hypnosis.  She contended that the tobacco industry’s marketing practices contributed to his addiction. 

 R.J. Reynolds contended that the medical evidence failed to show that Schleider’s cancer was caused by smoking and that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Schleider’s smoking was related to marketing by the tobacco industry. 

Plaintiff’s Closing Argument 

In his closing argument, Gary Paige of Gordon & Doner in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., representing Diane Schleider, told the jury that the tobacco industry marketed its products aggressively to children in order to create “replacement smokers” for smokers who quit or died. 

“That’s their business model,” Paige said.  “They know that they are going to convince kids because 90 percent of their market start as kids.  They know that. They know how addictive their product is and they’re going to go after kids in society, like Andrew Schleider.” 

(Click to view a video excerpt of plaintiff attorney Gary Paige’s closing argument.) 

Defendant’s Closing Argument 

In his closing argument, Frank Bayuk of King & Spalding in Atlanta, representing R.J. Reynolds, said that the case presented by Schleider was “generic.”  While Schleider’s attorneys presented numerous examples of print and television ads for cigarettes, Bayuk said, “There’s no evidence that Mr. Schleider started or continued smoking because of advertising, no evidence he ever chose a brand of cigarettes because of ads.” 

Bayuk noted further that the brand of cigarettes smoked by Schleider, Lucky Strikes, has not been advertised since 1966.  “He couldn’t have relied on advertising for the brand he was smoking because there were no ads,” Bayuk said.  “Bottom line, you’ve heard that 60 million people quit.  Advertising didn’t prevent them.  Advertising didn’t prevent people from quitting.  That’s what the evidence is in the case.” 

(Click to view a video excerpt of defense attorney Frank Bayuk’s closing argument.) 

The suit is part of the Engle class action, which was decertified after trial in 2006 by the Florida Supreme Court (Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 [Fla. 2006])[enhanced opinion available to subscribers].  The court allowed approximately 700,000 class members to pursue individual claims using findings of fact from the original Engle trial. 

Judge Sarah Zabel presided over the 12-day trial. 

In addition to Paige, Schleider is represented by Alex Alvarez of the Alvarez Law Firm in Miami.

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