TALLAHASSEE – The Leon Circuit Court has been directed by Florida’s First District Court of Appeal to enter a verdict in favor of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in a case filed by the husband of a woman who died of lung cancer, according to a Dec. 18 appeals court ruling.
The appeals court said a jury in the Leon County court awarded plaintiff James Whitmire, who filed a lawsuit a representative of the estate of Evelyn Whitmire, $3 million after assigning 67 percent of the blame for Evelyn Whitmire’s smoking habit and related death to R.J. Reynolds and 33 percent to the decedent.
On appeal, R.J. Reynolds argued James Whitmire was unable to prove that his wife smoked because she relied on allegedly false and misleading claims made by the tobacco company “and thus failed to prove fraudulent conveyance and conspiracy.”
According to the appeals court ruling, Evelyn Whitmire, who died in 1995 and only stopped smoking in the months before her death, “started smoking cigarettes when she was about 14 and normally smoked one or two packs a day. The decedent made multiple unsuccessful attempts to quit smoking.”
The appeals court said the expert testimony made on behalf of James Whitmire stated “large tobacco companies in the United States, including [R.J. Reynolds], made fraudulent statements regarding the hazards of smoking on Dec. 4, 1953 and thereafter.”
However, the tobacco company said the plaintiff was unable to prove that the allegedly fraudulent statements caused Evelyn Whitmire to start smoking.
The ruling did say the jury disagreed, finding that “the decedent was addicted to cigarettes containing nicotine, and that such addiction was the cause of her lung cancer and death” and assigning two-thirds of the blame for that addiction to R.J. Reynolds.
The appeals court’s majority opinion stated “because the appellee failed to present adequate evidence as a matter of law that the decedent relied on fraudulent statements by appellant regarding the health hazards of smoking cigarettes, we reverse the trial court’s denial of appellant’s motion for a directed verdict on the fraudulent concealment and conspiracy claims.”
The appeals court sent the case back to the trial court so the directed verdict can be issued and the damages reduced “to deduct the decedent’s comparative fault,” the order said.
Appeals court Judge Scott Makar dissented from the majority opinion written by Chief Judge Bradford Thomas.