Florida Jury Awards Nearly $29 Million in Damages in Smoker’s Death

On October 25, a Florida jury awarded $20 million in punitive damages against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in a trial over a chain smoker’s lung disease death. The jury added to the $8.8 million in compensatory damages awarded a day earlier.

Jurors awarded widower Alan Konzelman about $10 million more than he had sought, Law360 reports. He was awarded $8.8 million in compensatory damages for his pain and suffering over his wife’s death. He had asked for $5 million plus about $300,000 for his wife’s medical expenses. He had asked for $14 million in punitive damages and received $20 million.In closing arguments last week, Konzelman’s attorney told jurors how the sailor’s wife of 29 years died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The attorney explained that Konzelman loved his wife “deeply” and spent every possible moment with her. “They had an amazing and adventurous life . . .They sailed, they got married, they had fun together . . . And they had a right to grow older together.”

An attorney for R.J. Reynolds argued that Elaine Konzelman knew smoking was dangerous and her husband and four children had long been urging her to quit. The attorney said she kept smoking despite warnings on cigarette packs and public health campaigns, according to Law360.

This case is one of thousands arising from the landmark Engle class action against tobacco companies. Dr. Howard Engle, a lifelong smoker, was one of the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit. They said they had been turned into nicotine addicts by a tobacco industry that did not warn them of the health risks of the habit. The Florida Supreme Court decertified the class in 2006 and overturned a $145 billion verdict, but it allowed up to 700,000 people who could have won judgments to rely on the jury’s findings to file lawsuits of their own. Among the conclusions, the jury found that smoking causes certain diseases and that tobacco companies hid smoking’s dangers.

In a case decided in December 2015, an attorney said changes in practices made by tobacco companies were not voluntary, but were the result of a series of government lawsuits and a 2009 act of Congress that put the tobacco industry under the regulatory power of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But the changes came too late for Elaine Konzelman and many like her. The attorney in the 2015 case said “there is no evidence whatsoever that the tobacco companies have done anything to mitigate what they’ve done in the past. . . If they have changed, they probably don’t put down in writing every thought that they have anymore.”

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