A Marine veteran who got free cigarettes in boot camp in 1942 and had his cancerous bladder removed 52 years later has won a $4.3 million verdict against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco in Miami-Dade Circuit Court.
Jurors in Judge Michael Genden’s courtroom Friday awarded $7.8 million for pain and suffering but said Ralph Ballard, a Homestead native, was 45 percent responsible for his bladder cancer. They decided Ballard’s wife should be paid $750,000 for the loss of her husband’s comfort and attention.
Ballard’s attorney, Alex Alvarez of the Alvarez Law Firm in Coral Gables, said his clients did not seek punitive damages in hopes of getting through the appeals process sooner.
“I have a live, 86-year-old guy who’s not going to be around much longer,” Alvarez said Monday.
Ballard was also the only live plaintiff witness at the nine-day trial, said Alvarez, who also showed a video of an R.J. Reynolds addiction expert and of a corporate representative at deposition.
“I didn’t have to call any expert,” Alvarez said. “In exchange for that I waived punitive damages.”
A tobacco company psychiatrist testified that Ballard did not meet the criteria for addiction, Alvarez said.
R.J. Reynolds attorneys Benjamine Reid and Amy Furness, shareholders at Carlton Fields in Miami, did not return a telephone call for comment by deadline.
Alvarez said Ballard, who has a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, lied to enter the military at age 16 and fought in World War II. He also served in Korea and Vietnam, retiring as a first sergeant. After the free cigarettes at boot camp he paid 5 cents a pack at the military store. He told the jury it was difficult for him to stop smoking, even after a doctor told him in 1977 it was damaging his lungs.
Since his 1994 surgery Ballard urinates into a bag attached to his abdomen, which he empties every three hours, and has been unable to function sexually, Alvarez said. He filed suit in 2007.
Alvarez said punitive damages are usually one of the major battles on appeal.
“Since there’s none here, it’s less likely for either Supreme Court [Florida or U.S.] to accept,” he said. “So the finality of the judgment hopefully will be quicker.”