In the summer of 2014, a jury in Florida imposed a punitive damage award of $24 billion on R.J. Reynolds, the country’s second-largest tobacco companies. The lawsuit against Reynolds was filed on behalf of a man who died of lung cancer at the age of 36. Lung cancer lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm detail this case, and why Reynolds isn’t concerned about a $24 billion verdict.
Michael Johnson Sr. passed away in 1996 after two decades of smoking cigarettes; specifically, Kool cigarettes, manufactured by R.J. Reynolds. His widow filed a lawsuit on behalf of his estate, accusing Reynolds of deliberately hiding the health risks of their products.
The trial lasted four weeks, and the jury deliberated over two days. Their final verdict awarded Johnson’s widow $17 million in compensatory damages and $23.6 billion in punitive damages. “Compensatory” damages are awarded to compensate the plaintiff for the injuries they have suffered, such as medical bills, lost income, and lost life. “Punitive” damages can only be awarded in certain circumstances, when the jury feels the defendant should be punished and deterred from similar misconduct, intentionally disregarding the rights of the plaintiff.
This type of massive award against Big Tobacco is rare but not unheard of. In 2002, a Los Angeles ordered Philip Morris, a cigarette manufacturer, to pay $28 billion in punitive damages. Four years after that award, the Florida Supreme Court decertified a class action against Big Tobacco, which succeeded in the amount of $145 billion. This class action was known as the Engle case, and although the award was reversed, the Engle claimants were still allowed to sue individually. This is what set the stage for Michael Johnson’s case, and thousands of others like it in Florida.
What many people do not know is that Big Tobacco can afford to pay out these mutli-million dollar awards, particularly if they are spread out over time. The cigarette industry makes over $90 billion every year in revenue, and companies long ago started factoring in victims’ lawsuits into their costs of doing business.
In related news, the FDA recently expanded the approved uses of Cyramza (ramucirumab) to now treat patients with aggressive non-small cell lung cancer, which is the most common form of lung cancer.
Cyramza works to treat lung cancer by blocking the blood supply that feeds tumors. It is intended for patients whose tumors grew during or after platinum-based chemotherapy. Cyramza should be taken alongside a type of chemotherapy that uses the drug docetaxel.
The drug was initially approved to treat stomach cancer, or GEJ (gastroesophageal junction adenocarcinoma), which affects the organs where the esophagus meets the stomach. The decision to approve Cyramza for lung cancer is the result of clinical study of more than 1,200 patients. These study participants had been diagnosed with lung cancer that was progressive despite previous treatment.
Patients were randomly assigned to receive either a placebo and a chemotherapy drug, or Cyramza and the chemo drug. Results from this study showed that half of the patients who were given Cyramza plus the chemo drug lived for an average of 10.5 months from the time they started treatment. Those who received the placebo survived about 9 months after starting treatment.
Two months may not seem like a large improvement, but for lung cancer it
is considered significant. Adding drugs like Cyramza to chemotherapy regimens
is gaining popularity, as it allows a more targeted approach to fighting
the cancer, ultimately improving survival and outcomes. As stated, Cyramza
is one such drug, working to cut off the blood supply to the tumors by
blocking the messages that cancer cells send to attract new blood vessels.
Lung cancer is stigmatized more than any other cancer for its association with smoking and tobacco use; however, more people who never smoked are being treated for lung cancer than ever before. Lung cancer rates are actually increasing in nonsmoking women, for example, though fortunately female patients typically survive longer than male patients.
Our team of lung cancer lawyers continues to fight on behalf of those diagnosed with lung cancer, mesothelioma, and other diseases caused by toxic exposure. If you or someone you love was recently diagnosed with lung cancer – even if that person is a current or former smoker – we can help. We provide free, confidential legal consultations to concerned individuals and families nationwide, and we never charge any attorneys’ fees unless we win you a settlement or verdict.