Jacksonville Jury Orders R.J. Reynolds to Pay $30 Million to Widow of Smoker
On June 2, 2009, a Jacksonville jury ordered R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. to pay $30 million to Hilda Martin, the widow of Benny Martin, a longtime smoker who died of lung cancer in 1995 due to his addiction to nicotine. In apportioning fault for Benny Martin's death, the jury found the plaintiff 34% responsible and R.J. Reynolds 66% responsible. Mrs. Martin was awarded $5 million in compensatory damages and $25 million in punitive damages. R.J. Reynolds has vowed to challenge the verdict on appeal.
The Martin v. R.J. Reynolds trial is one of the first handful of cases to go to trial out of the approximate 8,000 cases filed against Big Tobacco in the Florida court system as a result of a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 in the case of Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc. that disbanded a class action of an estimated 700,000 Floridians. The Florida Supreme Court overturned the $145 billion punitive damage award in Engle and ordered that plaintiffs must prove one-by-one that addiction to cigarettes caused their illnesses, but allowed individual plaintiffs to utilize key findings from the Engle trial. Another 25 tobacco cases are on trial dockets in Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, and Jacksonville and should go to trial before the end of 2009. Hopefully dozens of other cases will be set for trial before the end of the year. The law firm of Alley, Clark & Greiwe currently has several cases scheduled for trial in 2009 and 2010.