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R.J. Reynolds goes to Supreme Court after hefty verdict

During closing arguments, the plaintiffs’ attorney made a series of comments about deaths caused by smoking.

Faced with the possibility of paying $14.7 million, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. has gone to the Florida Supreme Court in a case stemming from the death of a 56-year-old man who had lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

R.J. Reynolds filed a notice this week as a first step in asking the Supreme Court to review a December decision by the 3rd District Court of Appeal.

In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the South Florida appeals court rejected arguments that the verdict was excessive and that a plaintiffs’ attorney made improper comments during closing arguments.

A Miami-Dade County jury awarded $15 million to the wife of smoker Andrew Schleider and $6 million to his adult daughter.

The verdict, however, was reduced by 30 percent because Schleider was found to be that much at fault.

With the reduction, his wife, Diane Schleider, was awarded $10.5 million, while their daughter, Suzanne LeMehaute, was awarded $4.2 million, the appeals court ruling said.

During closing arguments, the plaintiffs’ attorney made a series of comments about deaths caused by smoking — including that 450,000 deaths a year equate to three plane crashes each day. R.J. Reynolds contended the arguments were improper, but the appeals court declined to toss out the verdict.

The lawsuit is what is known as an “Engle progeny” case — one of thousands of lawsuits filed in Florida against tobacco companies. Those cases stem from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court ruling that established critical findings about issues including the dangers of smoking and misrepresentation by cigarette makers.

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Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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