Jury awards $3 million to Suwannee widow in tobacco suit

A Suwannee County woman was awarded $3 million by an Alachua County jury Thursday in a lawsuit against two tobacco companies stemming from the death of her husband, a longtime smoker.

Anna Louise Huish was awarded $1.5 million against RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. and another $1.5 million against Philip Morris, said attorney Tom Gustafson of the law firm Searcy, Denney, Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley.

The same jury on Tuesday night awarded the family of John Huish $750,000 in compensatory damages.

“We’re very happy with the award and the jury clearly worked very hard on it,” Gustafson said on Thursday. “In these cases, the jurors have to take a trip back in time. Now, everybody knows that tobacco companies can’t be trusted and that they make products that are addictive and deadly. But for 50 years, they never admitted that. They ran a public relations campaign like no other.”

Steven Callahan, a spokesman for Philip Morris, said the company will appeal.

“We believe the court, in clear violation of Florida law and due process, allowed this plaintiff to rely on general findings by a prior jury that are unconnected to the facts of this case,” Callahan said. “We will appeal.”

RJ Reynolds spokesman David Howard wrote in an e-mail to The Sun that, “We are disappointed with the jury’s decision in the matter and we will appeal.”

The Huish suit was originally part of a class-action suit that was later broken into separate suits, Gustafson said.

Several of those cases have already been tried in Gainesville.

Huish, who died of small-cell lung cancer in 1993 at the age of 64, had started smoking two decades before warning labels appeared on cigarette packs.

Gustafson said that many of the findings from the original class-action are binding on the juries of the individual suits. The subjects of the suits all were addicted to nicotine and either died of a smoking-related disease or were diagnosed with a smoking-related disease between 1990 and 1996.

“They started smoking 20 and 30 years before there were warning labels on cigarettes and didn’t get smoking-related diseases until they got old,” Gustafson said.

Gainesville was chosen as the site for the trial because Huish had received treatment here and died here.

source: www.gainesville.com

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