Benny Martin died of lung cancer in 1995 aged 66 after a lifetime of smoking. His wife Mathilde sued R.J.Reynolds Tobacco co. because they sold him the Lucky Strike and Camel cancer sticks. A Florida court in Pensacola upheld the jury’s verdict against the tobacco company and in favor of Benny and awarded him posthumously $3,300,000 in compensation and $25,000,000 in punitive damages. There are a further 8000 lawsuits waiting in the wings against ‘Big Tobacco’. Naturally, R.J.Reynolds appealed and on Monday last the Supreme court refused to even hear their appeal.
Lawyers for the tobacco company wanted the Pensacola verdict overturned on the basis that it was a violation of a due process. Benny Martin’s family only had to prove that he was addicted and that the cigarettes directly caused his illness and wrongful death. By refusing to even hear the company appeal, the Supreme Court is opening the floodgates for many thousands of other dead and dying smokers.
It was the Florida Supreme Court in 2006, that left intact a plaintiffs right in these smoking cases, to use the evidence from previous cases to prove their current claims. While ‘Big Tobacco’ argue that takes away their right to defend themselves in court. In a statement R.J.Reynolds say, “The Florida state courts are engaged in serial due- process violations that threaten the defendants with literally billions of dollars of liability,”. While lawyers for Mrs. Martin state, “Mrs. Martin’s independent evidence proved her husband died as a result of addiction to RJR’s Lucky Strikes and Camels, her husband’s reliance on RJRs and its co-conspirators’ extensive 50-year misinformation campaign, and RJR’s liability for punitive damages,”
At the same time, the Florida Supreme Court handed down the Engle decision. It rejected a $145,000,000 punitive damage suit against Big tobacco and a statewide class action. The court did find the cigarette companies negligent, guilty of selling defective products and also guilty of conspiring to suppress data about the dangers of smoking. So far, this year plaintiffs helped by the Engle decision have won 40 out of 58 further decisions in state court trials. Much to the satisfaction of the Tobacco Products Liability Project that follows these matters. At the federal level, the first 2 ‘post Engle’s trials have gone against Big Tobacco despite many pre-trial appeals.
Big Tobacco has lost $375,000,000 to these judgements so far and are looking at 75 more trials in the coming year. On the bright side, the tobacco companies are only coughing up money and the current generation of young people continue to smoke and put money into the pockets of the growers and manufacturers. This generation can no longer claim that they do not know of the harmful effects that tobacco can have. So the legal procedures will die a slow lingering death long after the Martins and Engles of this World have passed from memory.