A Florida jury returned a $6.5 million verdict against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. in punitive damages in a lawsuit brought by relatives of a chain-smoking registered nurse and addiction counselor who died of lung cancer. This is in addition to the $5 million compensatory verdict awarded to the Plaintiffs a day earlier. The jurors awarded $1 million to each of Dorothy Jane McCabe’s five children, but found she was 70 percent responsible for her own death, while R.J. Reynolds bears 30 percent of the blame. McCabe began smoking as early as 12 years old and was a regular smoker by age 14. The evidence revealed that she smoked two to three packs per day for 53 years, always keeping a pack on her nightstand and often smoking outside instead of spending time with her family.
R.J. Reynolds claimed that McCabe’s training as a health professional and addiction counselor made it unlikely she didn’t know about the dangers posed by cigarettes. She was a registered nurse who attended nursing school immediately after high school and worked at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, where one of the nation’s foremost anti-smoking cancer experts worked. Ms. McCabe also was a serious alcoholic who sought treatment to overcome her alcohol addiction and eventually helped run an addiction treatment program.
Ms. McCabe was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1995 and died the following year. The case is one of the thousands stemming from the landmark Engle class action against tobacco companies. The Florida Supreme Court had decertified the Engle class in 2006 and overturned a $145 billion verdict, but allowed up to 700,000 people who could have won judgments to rely on the jury’s findings to file suits of their own. Those findings include conclusions that smoking causes certain diseases and that tobacco companies hid the dangers of smoking.