A Miami-Dade jury levied a $4.25 million verdict against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. for the widow of a smoker who died of pharyngeal cancer 15 years ago.
Jurors found the cigarette maker liable for strict liability, concealment fraud, conspiracy to conceal and negligence Wednesday in a three-week trial before Circuit Judge Spencer Eig.
The tobacco company’s legal team tried to convince jurors that Milton Williams died of human papilloma virus, said Allan Kaiser, who represented Virginia Williams.
“They said, ‘It was anything but smoking. He must have contracted HPV because he had multiple wives with multiple children,’ ” said Kaiser, a partner at the Ferraro Law Firm in Coral Gables.
R.J. Reynolds lawyers Jack Williams and Dal Burton of Womble Carlyle in Atlanta did not return calls for comment by deadline.
“Per company policy, we do not comment on pending litigation,” corporate spokesman Bryan Hatchell said.
Milton Williams smoke unfiltered Pall Malls for 40 years. He was 55 when he died, seven months after being diagnosed with cancer, Kaiser said. The Miami resident had two children with Virginia Williams.
A plaintiff’s expert testified Williams was both a smoker and a heavy drinker, but smoking caused his death, Kaiser said, conceding the personal details of the dead man made for a “terrible” case.
Ferraro partner David Finger was Kaiser’s co-counsel.
Kaiser was particularly pleased the jury held Williams only 15 percent responsible for his death, though it cut the total $5 million verdict.
“The norm has been to hit the smoker with a pretty high percentage of liability, anywhere from 30 percent to 100 percent,” he said. “I believe there are only three other tobacco cases in Florida with lower percentage of liability than 15 percent.”
Kaiser expects an appeal and plans a cross-appeal on the issue of punitive damages. Eig denied his request to amend the complaint to add punitive damages, he said.