Cases & Deals

R.J. Reynolds wins jury verdict in Weick ''Engle progeny'' lawsuit

Client(s) R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company

Jones Day successfully represented R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in the latest "Engle progeny" lawsuit to reach a jury verdict. On April 4, 2011, after eleven days of trial, a state court jury in Tampa, Florida returned a verdict in favor of R.J. Reynolds in Weick v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. The jury deliberated approximately 30 minutes before issuing a defense verdict in this wrongful death action.

The plaintiff in Weick, acting as personal representative for her deceased husband (who had smoked cigarettes manufactured by R.J. Reynolds) asserted claims for strict liability, negligence, fraudulent concealment and conspiracy. She argued that her husband was a member of the class decertified by the Florida Supreme Court in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 (Fla. 2006). The Engle action was filed as a purported class action against R.J. Reynolds and other cigarette manufacturer defendants on May 5, 1994. Over the Engle defendants' objection, on November 21, 1996, a class was certified to include "[a]ll Florida citizens and residents, and their survivors, who have suffered, presently suffer or who have died from diseases and medical conditions caused by their addiction to cigarettes that contain nicotine." The Florida Supreme Court eventually decertified the Engle class on a going-forward basis, but stated that members of the decertified class could initiate individual actions against the Engle defendants. The Court declared that in those individual actions, certain generalized findings from the 1999 class action trial in the Engle case were to be given an unspecified "res judicata effect" as to members of the class. Over 9,000 plaintiffs now have cases pending in Florida. To gain any benefit of the findings, a given plaintiff (such as Ms. Weick) must first establish class membership. The jury in the Weick trial determined that the smoker's illness (in this case, the plaintiff's husband's lung cancer) was not caused by his addiction to cigarettes containing nicotine.

Weick was the 44th Engle progeny case to be tried to a verdict in the Florida state courts since 2009. It also marks the third straight defense verdict in these lawsuits.

Florence Weick v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., No. 08-CA-006827 (Fla. Cir. Ct., 13th Jud. Cir., Hillsborough County)