Reynolds Ordered to Pay $200,000 in Suit
TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - A Florida jury ordered the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. to pay $200,000 in compensatory damages in the death of a longtime smoker, but acquitted the cigarette maker of conspiring to defraud smokers.
The Hillsborough County jury, which returned its verdict on Thursday, also declined to award punitive damages aimed at punishing Reynolds, the nation's second-largest cigarette maker.
Plaintiff Bob Jones sued Reynolds on behalf of his wife Suzanne, 62, who died of lung cancer in 1995. A pack-a-day smoker for four decades, she continued smoking after being diagnosed with the disease.
Her husband sued Reynolds in 1997, claiming its Winston brand cigarettes were defectively designed and caused Suzanne Jones' death. After five weeks of trial, the six-member jury agreed and awarded him $141,000 to cover medical and funeral expenses and $59,000 to compensate him for his loss.
But jurors rejected Jones' claim that Reynolds conspired to defraud smokers and his request for punitive damages.
Tobacco company lawyers had argued that Jones chose to smoke, despite 30 years of government warnings that smoking is a threat to health.
Reynolds, headquartered in Winston-Salem, N.C., said it would appeal the award portion of the verdict.
``Smokers have long been aware of the well-known and inherent risks of smoking and people who chose to smoke in the face of these known risks should not be financially rewarded, Reynolds' attorney Thomas McKim said.
Bob Jones, 70, said he was satisfied with the split verdict.
``I wanted to make a point and we made a point,'' he told the Tampa Tribune. ``People would quit smoking voluntarily if they knew the truth.''
Martin Feldman, a tobacco analyst with Salomon Smith Barney, said the award was the smallest ever awarded in a smoking and health case and was unlikely to prompt an increase in lawsuits filed by individual smokers against the tobacco companies.
In July, another Florida jury in Miami awarded $145 billion in punitive damages against the U.S. tobacco companies, including Reynolds, in a class-action lawsuit. The award was the largest punitive damage award in any U.S. lawsuit.