Wednesday, May 11, 2016

RJ Reynolds Hit With $12M Engle Verdict, Faces Punitives - Law360

It's a shame that only Florida has provided a remedy for smokers against the companies whose criminality is unmatched in American legal history. - GWC
RJ Reynolds Hit With $12M Engle Verdict, Faces Punitives - Law360

by Brandon Lawry

Law360, Los Angeles (May 11, 2016, 4:20 PM ET) -- A Florida jury awarded $12 million in compensatory damages Wednesday to the widower of a woman who allegedly died of lung cancer after decades of smoking, also finding R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. owes punitive damages for its role in concealing the dangers of tobacco use.

Marion Dion had smoked R.J. Reynolds brand cigarettes including Camel and Winston. (Credit: AP)
The jurors in Sarasota, Florida, found that R.J. Reynolds was 75 percent responsible for the death of Marion Dion while she herself was 25 percent to blame. The verdict exceeded the widower's request for $11 million and kicked off a punitive phase of the trial, which is slated to begin Thursday.

During closing arguments in the compensatory phase Tuesday, George Dion's attorney Mark E. Millard of Engstrom Lipscomb & Lack told the jury that the $11 million figure was just a suggestion for compensating his client for the 22 years since Marion Dion's death and the remainder of George Dion's own life.

"She was fun, loving and playful," Millard said. "That's gone. ... She was ripped away from him unexpectedly."

The closing arguments marked the end of a retrial in the Engle progeny case, which had resulted in a deadlocked jury in March 2015 when they returned a blank verdict form on the second day of deliberations, according to court records.

Marion Dion had begun smoking cigarettes in the 1950s as a teenager and smoked two packs a day, her husband's attorney William J. Wichmann told jurors during the retrial. She smoked R.J. Reynolds brand cigarettes, including Camel, Winston, Doral and Carlton, and failed to quit several times, Wichmann said.

R.J. Reynolds' attorney John Walker of Jones Day argued during his opening statement that Marion Dion knew smoking was bad and was reminded of that over the years by her husband, her children and government-mandated warning labels.

"She actually tried not to smoke during her pregnancies" in the 1950s and 1960s, Walker said. "Those are not the actions of somebody who thought cigarette smoking was a perfectly safe and healthy thing to do."

He added that Marion Dion urged her son to quit smoking, further proving that she knew smoking was not healthy.

Her attempts to quit were also lacking, Walker said. She did not make any serious effort until the early 1990s, when she sought out nicotine replacement therapy that had been around by then for a decade, he said.

Marion Dion died in 1994.

On Tuesday, Walker argued that George Dion could not show that his wife had primary lung cancer.

"No one actually looked in her lung to determine if there's cancer there," Walker said.

He added that Marion Dion was not coughing or displaying other symptoms typical of lung cancer patients when she first began treatment.

However, Wichmann pointed to her death certificate and treatment records, which listed lung cancer, bone metastases and hypercalcemia as causes of death.

R.J. Reynolds, he said, did not produce any witnesses who disproved those findings.

"Where's the medical witness to support Reynolds' theory that [all of the doctors who treated Marion Dion] all committed malpractice because they treated this lady for lung cancer from smoking when she really had cancer of the uterus?" Wichmann said, raising his voice. "Please keep your eye on the ball in this case."

The case is one of thousands stemming from the landmark Engle class action against tobacco companies.

The Florida Supreme Court had decertified the Engle class in 2006 and overturned a $145 billion verdict, but allowed up to 700,000 people who could have won judgments to rely on the jury's findings, to file suits of their own. Those findings included conclusions that smoking causes certain diseases and that tobacco companies hid smoking's dangers.

For more coverage of this trial, visit Courtroom View Network.

George Dion is represented by Mark E. Millard and Bryan C. Payne of Engstrom Lipscomb & Lack and William J. Wichmann.

R.J. Reynolds is represented by John Walker, Jack Williams, Jennifer Weizenecker and Stephen Paterson of Jones Day.

The case is Dion v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., case number 13CA5673, in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court of the State of Florida.

--Editing by Edrienne Su.

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