A state appeals court in Florida sided with big tobacco company R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and overturned a $3 million verdict in a lawsuit filed by the husband of a woman who was a longtime smoker and died of lung cancer.
The case was one of thousands of lawsuits that were filed in Florida against tobacco companies that stemmed from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court ruling that established findings on the dangers of smoking and misrepresentation of health facts provided by cigarette makers. In a 2-1 ruling by a panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal, a verdict for James Whitmire was overturned after they found that there was a lack of evidence that his wife, Evelyn Whitmire, relied on “fraudulent statements” made by cigarette maker R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. about the health dangers associated with smoking. According to the ruling, Evelyn Whitmire started smoking when was 14 years old and went on to smoke an average of one to two packs a day of filtered cigarettes. After she was diagnosed with lung cancer, she continued to smoke and died in 1995.
In writing the majority opinion, Chief Judge Brad Thomas wrote that the panel acknowledged that there was evidence that suggested Evelyn Whitmire believed filtered cigarettes were less harmful, “no evidence connected that belief to the tobacco companies’ statements other than the word ‘filter.’ To hold that smoking filtered cigarettes or viewing advertisements establishes sufficient evidence for a fraudulent concealment claim would eliminate the requirement that plaintiffs must individually show how they relied on the tobacco companies’ statements.”
Judge Allen Winsor added that her husband’s argument that his wife’s knowledge about the addictiveness of nicotine generally shows that smokers are able to quit “does not show that the decedent relied to her detriment on any tobacco company’s statement.”
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Scott Makar wrote that there was evidence presented during the case that showed that tobacco companies, including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., practiced questionable marketing methods that would hide the negative impacts smoking cigarettes posed to one’s health during the time when Whitmire and his wife were heavy smokers and tobacco consumers. In his opinion, Evelyn Whitmire was aware of the misleading advertisements and the harm smoking posed on her health before her death.
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