R.J. Reynolds Faces $11.5M Verdict in Nurse's Death
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A Florida jury on Friday slammed R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. with $6.5 million in punitive damages in a lawsuit brought by relatives of a chain-smoking registered nurse and addiction counselor who died of lung cancer, adding to the $5 million compensatory verdict it awarded the plaintiffs a day earlier.
Jurors in Tampa, Florida, on Thursday awarded $1 million to each of Dorothy Jane McCabe’s five children but found McCabe was 70 percent responsible for her own death, while R.J. Reynolds bears 30 percent of the blame.
Friday’s punitive verdict, while sizable, is less than half of what plaintiffs’ attorney Michael J. Trentalange of Trentalange & Kelley PA asked for during the punitive phase Friday.
McCabe began smoking as early as 12 years old and was a regular smoker by 14, Trentalange told jurors during the trial. She smoked two to three packs per day for 53 years, he said, always keeping a pack on her nightstand and often smoking outside instead of spending time with her family, he said.
However, R.J. Reynolds attorney Mark Belasic of Jones Day told jurors that McCabe’s training as a health professional and addiction counselor made it unlikely she didn’t know about the dangers posed by cigarettes.
McCabe was a registered nurse who attended nursing school immediately after high school and worked at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, where one of the nation’s foremost anti-smoking cancer experts worked, making it unlikely she didn’t know about the dangers of smoking, Belasic said.
McCabe also was a serious alcoholic who sought treatment to overcome her alcohol addiction and eventually helped run an addiction treatment program, Belasic said.
Belasic also noted that her children were all close to 40 years old when she died, and they don’t remember her trying to quit prior to when she ultimately quit in 1993. And she only quit then because one of her daughters refused to let her see her granddaughter until she quit smoking, Belasic said.
However, McCabe was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1995 and died the following year.
“She was an expert on addiction treatment,” Belasic said. “She was a willing smoker. She quit the first time she tried.”
The case is one of the thousands stemming from the landmark Engle class action against tobacco companies.
The Florida Supreme Court had decertified the Engle class in 2006 and overturned a $145 billion verdict, but allowed up to 700,000 people who could have won judgments to rely on the jury’s findings to file suits of their own. Those findings include conclusions that smoking causes certain diseases and that tobacco companies hid smoking’s dangers.
For more coverage of this trial, visit Courtroom View Network.
The plaintiffs are represented by Michael J. Trentalange of Trentalange & Kelley PA, Gary Paige of Gordon & Doner PA, and Paul Berg of Abrahamson & Uiterwyk.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by Mark Belasic of Jones Day.
The case is McCabe v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., case number 2007CA017632, in the 13th Judicial Circuit of Florida.
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