After a long losing streak for Smoker/Claimants – Florida Jury Awards $80 million to dead smoker’s family   Leave a comment

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By Render C. Freeman, Esq.

Yesterday, a Bronson, Florida Jury awarded $80 million to the family of a smoker who died from lung cancer.  $72 million of the verdict against RJ Reynolds was for punitive damages.  The smoker’s family claimed that the cigarettes sold by RJ Reynolds were defective and unreasonably dangerous.  The jury was allowed to allocate fault between the smoker and the manufacturer and it assigned 90% of the fault to RJ Reynolds and 10% to the smoker. This ends an 8-trial winning streak for RJ Reynolds.

So, what’s the difference in this case as compared to the others?  The theories and evidence are all the same. Is it just the odds that 1 out of 9 times, the claimant will get a sympathetic jury.  Did the family’s choice of trial lawyer make the difference?  Or was this family more sympathetic than the others?  The answer is all of the above, but there’s only one of those 3 factors that the client has any control over – the choice of trial lawyer.  So choose carefully. 

Some might argue that a claimant has some level of control over the jurors selected from the panel of candidates to serve. This is true.  The panel of candidates is going to be selected from a randomly summouned group of citizens.  And it’s true that a capable and well trained lawyer can identify and eliminate the most biased candidates and either have the court disqualify these candidates or use the claimants precious few preemptory strikes to keep them off of the jury.  Thus, to the extent that there is any flexibility in who serves on the jury, getting the best jury remains dependent on the trial lawyer’s skill level.

Similarly, to the extent that there is any variation in how the jury perceives the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s family, a well trained and experienced trial lawyer can prepare the clients and the family to make the best possible presentation at trial.  Thus, controlling this potential variable points back to the family’s choice of trial lawyer.

So, choose carefully. The right trial lawyer can make all the difference.

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