Cases & Deals

R.J. Reynolds wins jury verdict in Ellis "Engle progeny" lawsuit

Client(s) R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company

On September 11, 2014, following three weeks of trial and less than four hours of deliberation, a jury in Jacksonville, Florida returned a verdict in favor of Jones Day client R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company ("R.J. Reynolds") in a wrongful death action, finding that the decedent-smoker was not a member of the Engle class. The plaintiff, Ken Ellis, was the son of Betty Owens, who died in 1993 following a diagnosis of lung cancer after having smoked cigarettes manufactured by R.J. Reynolds and other manufacturers for nearly four decades. The plaintiff sought compensatory and punitive damages on claims of strict liability, negligence, fraudulent concealment, and conspiracy, arguing that his mother was a member of the class decertified by the Florida Supreme Court in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 (Fla. 2006), after a year-long trial in 1999. The Florida Supreme Court's decision in Engle allowed putative class members to initiate individual lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers, with certain generalized findings from the 1999 class action trial to be given an unspecified "res judicata effect." This resulted in more than 9,000 plaintiffs filing cases in the state and federal courts of Florida.

Ken Ellis, as Personal Representative of Betty Owens v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, et al., Case No. 2007-CA-011175 (Fla. 4th Cir.)