More and more tobacco wrongful death suits are popping up. Now another one in Florida has had a judgment. A Florida jury has awarded a gay man more than $157 million in a wrongful death lawsuit after his husband died from lung cancer caused by smoking cigarettes, in what an attorney said is the first such case involving a same-sex married couple.
Mr. Edward Caprio was diagnosed in 1996 with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He would live another 22 years before the disease eventually killed him. He passed early last year at 74.
A Big Reward Granted
A Broward County jury Friday ordered tobacco giants R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris to pay Caprio’s spouse, Bryan Rintoul, $157.4 million, including $9 million in compensatory damages. The cigarette makers were found equally at fault because Caprio smoked brands from both companies since he was 15.
The jury blamed the tobacco companies for manipulating the addictive nicotine levels in cigarettes and marketing them to adolescents. When Caprio started smoking in the late 1950s, the health risks were not as well known as they are now.
It is the first wrongful death case against the tobacco industry in the United States involving a same-sex married couple.
Florida Law States
Under Florida law, a surviving spouse in a wrongful death case cannot sue unless the couple married before the illness that caused the death. Rintoul and Caprio did not get married until 2015, days after the U.S. Supreme Court made marriage legal for same-sex couples nationwide.
Rintoul’s attorneys argued that the couple (who had been together for more than 35 years) would have married well before Caprio was diagnosed with the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, had they been legally allowed to do so. This the jury agreed upon.
A Broward Circuit judge allowed the case to proceed with Rintoul as the plaintiff after Caprio died.
Rintoul, who lives in Delray Beach, told reporters that he met Caprio in Los Angeles in the ’70s, when they worked at an advertising agency. He said Caprio tried many times to quit smoking in the course of their relationship.
But in 2001, Caprio was diagnosed with lung cancer and had two-thirds of his right lung removed. After his cancer diagnosis, he was required to use an oxygen machine. By the time of his death, Rintoul said, he received round-the-clock oxygen treatment.
Officials from R.J. Reynolds did not return a request for comment. A spokesman from Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, said in a statement: “We will promptly seek further review of this verdict. We believe that the punitive damages award is grossly excessive and a clear violation of constitutional and state law.”
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