A $79.2 million jury verdict against R.J. Reynolds has been overturned on apeal. The jury in North Florida had found in favor of a dead smoker’s daughter. This overturns one of the largest of the recent wrongful death verdicts against cigarette manufacturers.
The case will now return to Levy County Circuit Court by order of the 1st District Court of Appeal, with instructions to determine a lesser amount of damages for the death of James Cayce Horner, who succumbed to lung cancer in 1996, at the age of 78. Horner took up smoking in the 1930s, when he was a teenager. Some of his preferred brands included Pall Mall, Lucky Strike and Camel. Diane Webb, his daughter, sued R.J. Reynolds, claiming wrongful death, negligence and fraud.
The jury heard some emotionally charged testimony about how Mr. Horner helped care for his granddaughter, who suffered from a congenital condition. The care he provided was part of the case for a large financial compensation, because it can not be replicated. (The physical care can, but the relationship can not.) However, the Appeals Court did not find the very large amount of damages initially awarded, to be in line with the loss, as it indicated in its ruling, “The amount of compensatory damages suggests an award that is the product of passion, an emotional response to testimony regarding difficulties Ms. Webb and her father faced and overcame before cancer befell him, rather than evidence of his illness, subsequent death and the noneconomic consequences of the death itself.”
The ruling did, however, reject R.J. Reynolds argument for a reversal, saying it is following the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Carter v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 778 So. 2d 932, 940 (Fla. 2000) The court also rejected an argument from the tobacco company’s lawyers that Dianne Webb had failed to make the case her father had relied upon misinformation and the omission of information by R.J. Reynolds, about the potential health consequences of using their tobacco products. In their own words, “the record contains abundant evidence from which the jury could infer [Mr. Horner’s] reliance on pervasive misleading advertising campaigns . . . and on the false controversy created by the tobacco industry during the years he smoked aimed at creating doubt among smokers that cigarettes were hazardous to health.”
Appellate Opinion (PDF)
A new trial must be held on damages.