Sick Smokers Case Argued in Appeals Court

By: Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
By: Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida


Amid a flood of smoking-related lawsuits, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. on Tuesday challenged a $15.75 million jury award in the case of man who started smoking at age 14 and died of lung cancer in 1995.

The Alachua County case is one of thousands spawned by a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision that required such lawsuits to be heard individually --- but also established critical findings about the health dangers of smoking and misrepresentation by cigarette makers.

R.J. Reynolds argued to a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal that compensatory and punitive damages awarded to the widow of smoker Arthur L. Hall were excessive.

Gregory Katsas, an attorney for the tobacco company, argued in part that $12.5 million in punitive damages should be reduced because Hall knew the dangers of smoking. That knowledge came despite the misrepresentations by the tobacco industry.

“He told family members repeatedly that cigarettes were cancer sticks,’’ Katsas said at one point.

But John Mills, an attorney for the widow, Amanda Jean Hall, said Arthur Hall started smoking in 1953 at a time when the industry marketed cigarettes to teens. He said the tobacco companies did not tell young smokers about the addictiveness or deadliness of cigarettes.

The jury also awarded $5 million in compensatory damages, though that total was ultimately reduced to $3.25 million because Hall was found partly at fault for his death.

Katsas argued the award was far higher than should be allowed, questioning “what is the upper bound on damages for pain and suffering for loss of a loved one?’’

But Mills briefly recounted the effects of Hall’s death on the widow. As an example, he said Amanda Jean Hall sold the family home because she didn’t want to live there without her husband.

“This has been devastating to her,’’ Mills said. “The jury saw her. The jury saw her family.’’

The Hall case is one of the first of the so-called Engle “progeny” cases --- named after a plaintiff in the 2006 Supreme Court decision --- to be heard by an appeals court.

The Supreme Court decision stemmed from a class-action lawsuit that led to a $145 billion punitive-damages award against the tobacco industry. Justices, in a complicated split decision, rejected the punitive damages and also said such cases are too “individualized” to be handled in a class action.

But the court also spelled out important findings that plaintiffs can use in the individual cases. Those findings include establishing that cigarettes cause a wide range of diseases, that nicotine in cigarettes is addictive and that tobacco companies concealed information about the health effects of smoking.

The 1st District Court of Appeal has recently ruled against the tobacco industry in two other cases, including a December ruling that upheld a $28.3 million judgment in an Escambia County case. R.J. Reynolds has asked the Florida Supreme Court to hear an appeal of that case --- an appeal that, if granted, also could have implications for other cases.

In broad strokes, the Hall case and the Escambia County case involved similar circumstances. In the Escambia case, Benny Martin died of lung cancer after decades of smoking that started when he was a teen, according to court records.

It is unclear when the appeals court will rule in the Hall case. But at times Tuesday, judges appeared skeptical of R.J. Reynolds’ arguments.

Judge T. Kent Wetherell, for example, pointed to the Escambia case and another case with a multimillion-dollar verdict in questioning the company’s argument that the Hall compensatory damages are excessive.

“Is that argument still viable in light of what has happened (with the other cases)?’’ Wetherell asked.

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  • by gene Location: usa on May 19, 2011 at 11:18 AM
    Ah, the usual flood of comments from people who know absolutely nothing about the case in quesition, and have no in-depth knowledge whatsoever. They bloviate away based solely on their seat-of-the-pants knee-jerk reactions to a few newspaper graphs. How about the "Personal Responsibility" to actually know something about a subject before opening up your idiotic mouth?
  • by Steve Location: Marietta, Georgia on May 18, 2011 at 01:44 PM
    I am 52. I smoked from the time I was 9 years of age. I would steal one-of-many of my Grandad's pipes, Prince Albert, and I smoked...I grew tired of loading that pipe, and smoked cigarrettes at age 13. I smoked "readi-rolled" throughout my time in the sevice, but went back to the pipe, smoking Sir Walter Raliegh, Price Albert, Flying Dutchmen, and some blends from "The Tinder Box." I am making a long story, short, by adding-only this: I put it down, in 1994, and have not looked back! The data, suggest that a reformed smoker, has the same chance of lung cancer, as a person whom never smoked, after 7 years! That's enough for me. Zero tar, after only one year! I have zero scars, specs, dots, or any-other thing in my lungs. I smoked for 27 years, and just stopped. Quit in 1994. My point is, it is never too-late to quit! Stop smoking-NOW!
    • reply
      by Stacy on May 19, 2011 at 03:09 AM in reply to Steve
      Good for you Steve - I am really happy for you - may you live to see 100 or more.
  • by Anonymous on May 18, 2011 at 12:58 PM
    @ 13 years old with no one telling you different Kasey it is not what they deserve. It's an addiction & the makers of cigs are at fault
    • reply
      by Kasey on May 19, 2011 at 03:07 AM in reply to
      Listen up I have known since I was 3 (I am now 70) that they were bad for you. I told this to my children and my grand children. it is all how you re raised.
    • reply
      by stop making excuses on May 19, 2011 at 05:05 AM in reply to
      In 1966 they started labeling the packs...
  • by dog Location: gone on May 18, 2011 at 12:28 PM
    • reply
      by Dog Trainer on May 19, 2011 at 12:27 PM in reply to dog
      Your lack of Intelligence on this matter is beyond belief. Now GO LIE DOWN..
  • by Kasey on May 18, 2011 at 09:20 AM
    I'm sorry but smokers get what they deserve. We have known forever that those "coffin nails" were bad for us.
  • by Mr. Sarcasm Location: here on May 18, 2011 at 06:58 AM
    Next...we can sue the automakers because that round thing that directs the wheels on the car didn't say anything about not being able to pull out in front of that truck.
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