R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris USA Inc. asked a FL appeals court to vacate a $42.5 million verdict for the family of a deceased smoker, arguing that the trial court judge improperly allowed plaintiff’s counsel to ask prejudicial questions of potential jurors.
R.J. Reynolds’ attorney Val Leppert said the trial court judge overruled the tobacco companies’ objections to questions during jury selection, including queries about whether potential jurors would feel intimidated or scared to render a verdict against the tobacco companies.
The judge also failed to remove a juror, known as Juror No. 8, for cause after she told the court that she believed anyone who is a daily smoker is addicted and a cigarette company would bear the burden of proof to disprove that.
Kimberly Boldt, who argued for widower Kenneth Gloger, told the appeals court that it’s necessary to look at the entirety of voir dire. She said that the tobacco companies asked Juror No. 8 and others about whether daily smokers are addicted in an attempt to embed the facts of the case in jury selection and pretry the issue in question. In the end, she added, the tobacco companies used a peremptory challenge on Juror No. 8, who never sat on the jury.
Gloger and his children sued Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds in 2011, claiming they were responsible for the 1996 death of his wife, Irene Gloger, of lung cancer at age 47. In October 2017, a Miami-Dade County jury found the companies liable and awarded $6 million in compensatory and $10 million in punitive damages.
After a second trial, a jury awarded $5 million in compensatory damages each for Gloger and the couple’s two children, who were 15 and 18 when their mother died. The jury also issued punitive damages awards of $11 million and $16.5 million against Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, respectively.