Philip Morris, RJR hit with $21M verdict for smoker’s widow

By Amanda Thomas | May 29, 2018

Tobacco manufacturers face $21M in damages over smoker’s death

Philip Morris USA Manufacturing Center in Richmond, Virginia.

VENICE - A Florida jury has awarded $21 million in total damages to the widow of a smoker who died of lung cancer. 

The jury awarded a $10 million punitive award against Philip Morris and $4 million against R.J. Reynolds last week, the Courtroom View Network reported. This was part of the second damages phase of a trial over the death of Fred Theis. Including compensatory damages, the total awarded to Faye Theis, Theis’ widow, was $21 million. 

The jury found Philip Morris to be 60 percent responsible for Theis' lung cancer, with Reynolds at 15 percent and Fred Theis at 25 percent.

Fred Theis, who reportedly began smoking in the 9th grade, quit smoking in 1995 and was diagnosed with lung cancer just months later. He died at age 54, which was two years after his diagnosis. For more than 35 years, he had consumed up to three packs of cigarettes a day. 

Theis’ family attributed his death to his nicotine addiction and the tobacco industry’s conspiracy to hide the dangers of smoking.

During trial, their attorney cited expert testimony and two addiction tests showing Theis was hooked on nicotine. The attorney also noted that his addiction met the tobacco industry’s goal to keep its customers even if using their products posed a health risk. Theis reportedly tried to quit smoking multiple times before stopping for good. 

But the defense argued there was no evidence Theis tried to quit before 1984 and that he “more likely than not” would have avoided lung cancer if he quit smoking in the early- to mid 1980s. 

An attorney for R.J. Reynolds argued that Theis’ lung cancer risk wasn’t increased by the tobacco products. The attorney cited a book by Theis’ oncologist that said a smoker needs a “20-pack-year history” before the cancer risk increases “in a meaningful way.” 

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