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Litigation

Florida Jury Awards $776,000 To Widow Of Smoker Who Died Of COPD (Watch The Closing Argument Videos)

MIAMI — (Mealey’s) A Florida state court jury awarded $776,000 June 18 to the widow of a man who died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) after more than 50 years of smoking (Joyce Hardin, et al. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., et al., No. 07-46973-CA-22, Fla. 11th Jud. Cir., Miami-Dade Co.). 

After two days of deliberation, the jury, sitting in the 11th Judicial Circuit Court, found that Thomas Hardin was addicted to cigarettes manufactured by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and that his addiction was a legal cause of his death.  The jury found for Reynolds on the issues of fraud and misrepresentation.  The jury assessed Thomas Hardin with 87 percent responsibility for his injuries, leaving Reynolds responsible for the remainder. 

Hardin, a long-haul trucker, began smoking in 1947 at age 9, eventually smoking up to two packs per day.  He was diagnosed with COPD in 1996.  He quit smoking in 2005 and died in 2012 at age 74. Joyce Hardin contended that her husband was misled by representations and omissions by the tobacco industry about the health effects of smoking.  She alleges that he became addicted and was unable to quit for many years despite a number of attempts. 

Plaintiff’s Closing 

In his closing argument, Allan Kaiser of the Ferraro Law Firm in Miami, representing Joyce Harding, told the jury that Thomas Hardin “did not involve himself in risk-taking” as a young man and likely would not have continued smoking had he been aware of the risks. 

(Watch a video excerpt of Kaiser’s closing argument.) 

“We know that if the truth had come out in the ‘50s, perhaps there would have been restrictions on smoking sooner,” Kaiser said.  “We know that if the truth had come out, perhaps this climate of normalcy wouldn’t have existed.  We know that if the truth had come out, perhaps parents would have been able to tell their kids, ‘Smoking is bad; it causes cancer.’ earlier.  Perhaps people in church would have been telling the parishioners that smoking is bad and causes cancer.  Perhaps school teachers, if this climate didn’t exist, would have been telling their kids, ‘Smoking is bad; it causes cancer.’  And so what would Mr. Hardin have done, this responsible kid who was not smoking a pack a day yet when confronted with this evidence when it might not have been cool to smoke with your friends?  I can’t assure you, based on the evidence, he would have quit.  But, based on the evidence, more likely than not, he probably would not have continued smoking because it would have been easier for him at that time to stop.” 

Defense Closing 

In his closing argument, W. Ray Persons of King and Spalding in Atlanta, representing Reynolds, told the jury that Harding did not rely on any statements made by the tobacco industry “in making his smoking decision.”

 (Watch a video excerpt of Persons’ closing argument.) 

“There was an abundance, an overabundance, of information . . . talking about the link between smoking and cancer,” Persons said.  Further, he said, “We brought you evidence of Mr. Hardin’s own personal knowledge of the dangers and addictiveness of smoking.  The bottom line is, ‘You cannot conceal what is already known.’” 

Engle 

The suit is part of the Engle class action, which 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].  The court allowed approximately 700,000 class members to pursue individual claims using findings of fact from the original Engle trial. 

Judge Migna Sanchez-Llorens presided over the two-week trial. 

In addition to Persons, Reynolds is represented by Frank Bayuk of King & Spalding in Atlanta.  

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