(© 2005 by Tomasz Sienicki via Wikimeida Commons)
The daughter of a Delray Beach woman who died of lung cancer at 58 was awarded $20 million by a Palm Beach Circuit Court jury.
Gwen Odom sued R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. as the representative of the estate of her mother, Juanita Thurston. The three-week trial before Circuit Judge Timothy McCarthy ended Monday after the jury awarded $14 million in punitive damages in the second phase of deliberations.
The jury awarded $6 million in compensatory damages Friday, said plaintiffs attorney Mariano Garcia of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley in West Palm Beach.
Thurston began smoking her father’s cigarette brand, Camel, at 14. She first tried to quit in 1976 but did not stop smoking until 1987. In January 1991, she was diagnosed with lung cancer and died shortly after.
Reynolds argued Thurston always knew smoking involved a health risk because there was sufficient public awareness, Garcia said. The company also claimed she must have known of the harmful health effects by 1976 when she first tried to quit.
The timing of Thurston’s knowledge of harm was a key issue. She could not have been certain of the health risks before May 5, 1982, to benefit from a Florida Supreme Court decision, which preserved several adverse findings by a Miami jury against tobacco companies for future plaintiffs in a decertified statewide class.
Subsequent case law has simplified verdict forms in Florida tobacco liability cases. The jury only had to agree that Thurston was addicted to cigarettes, smoking caused her cancer and she relied to her detriment on misleading tobacco company assurances about the safety of smoking after May 5, 1982.
Odom was 42 when her mother died. She testified her mother smoked as much as 2½ packs a day of Salem menthols, and her mother said in her last days she would have quit smoking much sooner had she known she would get lung cancer.