A former smoker’s widow named Joyce Hardin filed a lawsuit in Miami against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. She alleges that the company’s statements and omissions regarding the addictiveness of cigarettes as well as their harmful effects caused her late husband to become ill. She is requesting more than $20 million in compensatory damages.
In 1996, her husband, named Thomas Hardin, was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). According to plaintiff’s attorney Allan B. Kaiser, Hardin was raised in rural Alabama, and started smoking at the age of nine. Kaiser alleges that the company conspired with other cigarette makers to hide facts about how addictive and detrimental cigarettes can be over the course of several years.
Hardin did not know how addictive cigarettes could be when Hardin was younger because the tobacco company and its conspirators hid the facts from people like Hardin. Although tobacco awareness and education is well known today, the jury should not use today’s standards to evaluate cases like Hardin’s. The risks of smoking were not as well advertised in the 1950’s, when Hardin first began smoking. Young Hardin could only rely on statements made by the tobacco industry, which failed to issue any warnings about the risks of smoking. Thus, without any knowledge of the dangers of smoking, Hardin became addicted, and his addiction led to his illness, and eventually to his death.
Preventing Future Hardins
There were thousands of cases, such as this one, arising from the 1994 Engle class action lawsuit against tobacco companies. The Florida Supreme Court permitted up to 700,000 individuals to use a jury’s findings about addictive tobacco to file their own lawsuit. The jury found that smoking causes certain diseases, and that the perils of smoking were concealed by tobacco companies.
In order to win a judgment, Hardin’s estate must persuade the jury that Hardin suffered from an addiction to nicotine that was caused by his cigarette smoking. The Hardin estate must also convince the jury that Hardin’s smoking of R.J. Reynold’s cigarettes caused his COPD and emphysema that ultimately resulted in his demise. In the event that the jury arrives at these conclusions, the jury is then required to decide the percentage of fault that is attributable to each party for Hardin’s disease, and perform a calculation of compensatory damages for his widow.
I think that the jury should render an award as close as possible to the requested amount of $20.2 million to compensate Joyce Hardin for her pain and suffering, and her loss of companionship. The jury should take into consideration Hardin’s early stages of COPD, the severe illness that he suffered for six-and-a-half years, and his projected lifespan of 12 years that was reduced.
I also believe that the jury should render a verdict that includes punitive damages. By adding punitive damages, other tobacco companies will be dissuaded from engaging in the same type of deception about the dangers of smoking that was committed by R.J. Reynolds.