Ciccone v. R.J. Reynolds (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
In his first Engle Tobacco trial, plaintiff attorney Bill Wichmann convinced a Ft. Lauderdale jury that George Ciccone died of lung cancer and COPD caused by his addiction to cigarettes containing nicotine, and that R.J. Reynolds was liable for both compensatory and punitive damages because RJR’s defective products and gross negligence were a legal cause of Mr. Ciccone’s death.
However, Jones Day Engle veteran Kevin Boyce did not walk away empty-handed. The jury allocated most of the fault to the plaintiff, and the jury’s $50K punitive damage award was among the lowest punitive damage awards in an Engle trial.
In Phase 1 of the trial, the jury rejected RJR’s statute of limitations argument that Mr. Ciccone’s peripheral vascular disease did not manifest itself in time for Mr. Ciccone to be a member of the Engle class.
In Phase 2, Mr. Wichmann told the jury that George Ciccone, who “served this country in the Navy, raised five kids, worked up until a week before he died — he never had a chance against the suits and the scientists from R.J. Reynolds — the suits on Wall Street, the suits in the Empire State Building, and the scientists. He never stood a chance…Young George Ciccone had a target on his back. R.J. Reynolds, we will prove to you, targeted young men like George Ciccone, to get him addicted on their product, so they could sell more products, and make more money, even though they knew that that product, if used exactly the way it was intended to be used, would cause lung cancer and death.“
For R.J. Reynolds, Jones Day’s Kevin Boyce told the jury that misstatements about the risks of smoking didn’t make any different to Mr. Ciccone. “The idea that he was waiting for word from Reynolds to quit is undercut by the fact that when that word was given…it made no difference to him. There’s no quit attempt in 1997…In 1998 she says he’s not interested in stopping. In 1999, two years after Reynolds’ CEO said smoking can cause lung cancer, and [his doctors told him he could] lose his legs, and he still didn’t try to stop…This is what you have to consider to see if plaintiffs can connect the conduct that they have been complaining about in this case with the harm suffered by Mr. Ciccone.“
The jury found that RJR cigarettes were defective, and the RJR’s conduct was grossly negligent. However, the jury allocated 70% of the fault to Mr. Ciccone, and only 30% to RJR.
The jury awarded $196,222 in medical expenses, $1.08M in past general damages, $1.9M in future general damages, and $50K in punitive damages.