RJ Reynolds Loses 28 Million in Smoking Lawsuits
Written by Faith Anderson on July 27, 2011
2006 Supreme Court Decision in Tobacoo Class Action
According to some, the fact that the Supreme Court rejected the tobacco company’s appeal could strip R.J. Reynolds and other tobacco companies of a critical strategy for defending thousands of Florida lawsuits filed by sick smokers. These lawsuits have been piling up since 2006, when the Supreme Court threw out a $145 billion class-action award against tobacco companies, ruling that damages must be decided on a case-by-case basis. However, because the justices found that cigarette makers knowingly sold defective and dangerous products and concealed the risks associated with smoking, future plaintiffs are not required to prove these factors. They are only required to show that they were addicted to smoking, which prevented them from quitting, and that their illnesses, or the deaths of family members, were caused by cigarette use.
R.J. Reynolds’ Appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court
R.J. Reynolds challenged the way the lower courts applied the 2006 ruling, arguing that Benny Martin’s widow was not forced to prove the company’s liability. In other words, the company believes that Martin’s attorneys were not required to prove that Martin relied on deceptive advertising about the dangers of smoking. The tobacco company used a similar strategy in defending other cases, including a $15.75 million verdict in the death of another Florida smoker. According to a spokesperson for Reynolds, the company will appeal the recent decision to the U.S. Supreme Court due to the belief that the Martin verdict violates the company’s constitutional rights to a fair and impartial trial.
What this Decision Means for Ill Smokers and Their Families
The 2006 Supreme Court ruling has helped generate more than $360 million in damages in approximately two dozen cases, with thousands more pending. In about two-thirds of the cases tried to date, jurors have sided with smokers or their families. The largest verdict issued so far was in the amount of $80 million and was awarded to the daughter of a man who died of lung cancer. John Mills, the attorney who worked on this case maintains that the justice’s decision not to hear R.J. Reynold’s arguments resolves the issue about how the 2006 findings should be applied. According to Mills, if something needed to be done to amend the decision, it would have been addressed in the Martin case. Therefore, in future lawsuits against tobacco companies, smokers do not need to prove individually the inherent dangers of smoking; they only need to prove that smoking was largely responsible for their own illness, or the death of a family member, that occurred after years of use.