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Plaintiffs Win Again in Engle Progeny Tobacco Cases


On January 26, 2012, an Escambia County jury awarded Erskin Donal Ward $2.7 million against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Liggett Group, LLC Philip Morris USA, Inc., in case number 2008-CA-2135, filed in the First Judicial Circuit, in Escambia County, Florida.
The lawsuit filed in the case alleged that Erskin Ward's wife, Mattie Emma Ward, died of emphysema after nearly 50 years of smoking cigarettes made by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Liggett Group, LLC Philip Morris USA, Inc.
Erskin Ward's attorney, James Gustafson said that the jury verdict included $1.7 million in punitive damages against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.
James W. Gustafson, Jr. of Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley in Tallahassee, Florida, along with Matt Schultz of the Levin Papantonio Thomas Mitchell Echsner & Proctor firm in Pensacola, Florida represented Mrs. Ward's husband, Erskin Donal Ward, now 76.
Mr. Gustafson stated that evidence in the trial demonstrated Mrs. Ward started smoking as a thirteen year old in rural Alabama in 1949, almost 20 years before the first warning labels ever appeared on cigarette packs.  Under the standard required by the Florida Supreme Court's "Engle" decision, the plaintiff needed to prove that Mrs. Ward was addicted to nicotine and nicotine addiction caused her death.
"The jury's work and patience in this trial showed," Gustafson said. "The verdict is not only a tribute to a woman who was a treasure to Pensacola and the special education community, but to the hard work the jury did to understand how much things have changed in the past 50 years--and the need to punish R.J. Reynolds for its intentional outrages, what they did to a generation of Americans, including hawking cigarettes to children.'
"Mrs. Ward is another tragic example of the best among us, someone who started smoking as a child decades before the warnings, and was killed by addiction to nicotine," said Gustafson.
Sources at the Searcy Denney law firm said that this verdict marks eight successive plaintiff's verdicts in Engle progeny tobacco suits by the lawyers for Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley.  "The industry keeps saying they're changing the legal landscape, that they have such powerful defenses to these cases.  When good people see the truth, those defenses are the same glass houses of deceit they always were." said James Gustafson.

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