A Florida jury found that R.J. Reynolds should pay $2 million in punitive
damages to the widow of a cigarette smoker who died of lung disease, adding that amount to $540,000 in compensatory damages it awarded the estate in a first phase of the trial last week.
The jury in Palm Beach County came in below the $5 million sought by Judith Spurlock, but it still saw fit to quintuple the total award despite finding earlier that Lloyd Spurlock, who developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease before he died in 2013, was 70% at fault for his injuries.
Richard Diaz, who represented Judith Spurlock, expressed mixed reactions. He believes that the punitive damages award was still extremely high for an Engle progeny case where the compensatory damages were in the six-figure range, but he also noted that this was the third Engle case he was aware of to go to trial since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and all have resulted in fairly low verdicts.
The suit was one of the many spun off from the landmark Engle v. Liggett Group case, in which the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 upheld an appeals court decision overturning a $145 billion verdict but allowed class members to sue tobacco companies individually using the Engle jury’s liability findings about the industry and its role in downplaying the dangers of smoking.
The jury said that Spurlock’s pain and suffering were worth $500,000 and his health care costs were a bit under $41,000.
Born in 1934, Lloyd Spurlock first tried cigarettes at age 8, in 1942, and became a pack-a-day smoker by 1954. Although he was functionally illiterate after leaving school in the third grade, he eventually owned a bar, a landscaping business and janitorial service throughout his life. He would have still heard marketing messages that continued decade after decade.