Florida Smoker's Addiction Didn't Cause Disease, Death, Jury Finds

Florida Smoker's Addiction Didn't Cause Disease, Death, Jury Finds

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - (Mealey's) A Florida jury found Oct. 4 that a pair of tobacco companies were not responsible for the disease and death of a longtime smoker, despite finding that she was addicted to cigarettes; the victory is one of only a handful for the tobacco industry since the Engle progeny trials began (Norma Warrick, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Evaline Warrick v. R.J. Reynolds, et al., No. 16-2007-CA-11654, Fla. Cir., 4th Judicial Cir., Duval Co.).

Evaline Warrick started smoking at age 13 in 1949.  She contracted chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in 1991 and eventually quit smoking 10 years later; nevertheless, she was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009 and died in February 2010.

Warrick sued R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (RJR), Philip Morris USA Inc. and other cigarette manufacturers in the Fourth Judicial Circuit Court for Duval County as a former member of the class in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc. (945 So.2d 1246 [Fla. Sup. 2006], cert denied, 128 S.Ct. 96 [2007]) that was broken up by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006.  After her death, family members continued the suit as a wrongful death and survival action.

The defendants argued that Warwick could have quit smoking if she had wanted to and that she died of heart disease, not lung cancer.

The initial trial before Judge Charles Mitchell began July 16 and concluded Aug. 2, but after two days of deliberations, the jury was deadlocked.  Judge Mitchell scheduled a new trial to begin Sept. 20.

The retrial took place through Oct. 1; on Oct. 4, the jury returned a verdict of no liability on the part of the tobacco companies.  The jury concluded that although Warrick was addicted to cigarettes, her addiction was not the legal cause of her COPD and resulting death.  In addition, the jury found that, her diagnosis with COPD in 1991 notwithstanding, Warrick knew or should have known before May 5, 1990, that she had the disease and that there was a reasonable possibility that it was caused by the defendants' actions.

The verdict marks only the fifth win for the tobacco industry out of the 24 Engle progeny cases that have gone to verdict since February 2009.

[Editor's Note:  Full coverage will be in the October issue of Mealey's Litigation Report: Tobacco.  In the meantime, the verdict sheet is available at www.mealeysonline.com or by calling the Customer Support Department at 1-800-833-9844. Document #04-101015-005V.  For all of your legal news needs, please visit .]www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys

For more information, call editor Gerald C. Matics at 610-205-1131, or e-mail him at gerald.matics@lexisnexis.com.