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Burton v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

(Personal Injury US Dist. Ct. KS 1994 Pltf Paid) Citation: 884 F.Supp. 1515 (10 Mar 1995); 203 F.R.D. 636 (1 Nov 2001 regarding supplemental expert disclosures); 181 F.Supp.2d 1256 (8 Jan 2002 regarding motion for summary judgment); 208 F.Supp.2d 1187 (9 May 2002 denying new trial); 205 F.Supp.2d 1253 (21 Jun 2002 setting punitive damage amount); 397 F.3d 906 (9 Feb 2005); 395 F.Supp.2d 1065 (20 Oct 2005 regarding costs)

This individual personal injury suit was filed by David and Ora Burton against R.J. Reynolds and the American Tobacco Co. on May 25, 1994.
The plaintiffs alleged that cigarettes caused David Burton's peripheral vascular disease (PVD) and addiction. Mr. Burton smoked Camel and Lucky Strike cigarettes for 43 years beginning around 1950. In 1993, he was diagnosed with PVD, which resulted in the loss of his legs later that year. The plaintiffs claimed design defect, failure to warn, negligent testing and research, fraudulent concealment, breach of express warranty, and conspiracy. The plaintiffs sought compensatory and punitive damages.
The defendants argued that the claims were barred by the statute of limitations, as well as asserting the defense of common knowledge.
The case was heard in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas (Case No. 94-2202-JWL)before the Honorable John W. Lungstrum. March 10, 1995, the judge (884 F.Supp. 1515) granted a partial summary judgment for the defendants on the claims of fraudulent misrepresentation and breach of express warranty, as well as post-1969 failure to warn (as preempted by the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act). On February 22, 2002, a verdict was returned in favor of the defendant on the claims of design defect and conspiracy, but for the plaintiffs for failure to warn, negligent testing and research, and fraudulent concealment. The jury award consisted of $198,400 in compensatory damages. The judge imposed $15 million in punitive damages against R.J. Reynolds on June 21, 2002. The defendant appealed.
The United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit (397 F.3d 906) reversed the verdict for fraudulent concealment and all punitive damages and affirmed the verdict for the failure to warn claim, failure to test, and all compensensatory damages on February 9, 2005. The court found that state law did not recognize fruadulent concealment when brought by an ordinary consumer because there was no fiduciary duty to disclose information. Because the punitive damage award was based entirely on the fraudulent concealment claim, the court reversed it as well. The plaintiffs' claim of negligent failure to warn was not barred by the statute of limitations and were supported by sufficient evidence. Mr. Burton's PVD and addiction were not discoverable until he was diagnosed and tried to quit smoking while in the hospital. The two year statute of limitations was counted from the first date the injury was "reasonably ascertainable".
A final judgment was ordered in favor of the plaintiff for $196,416, and issued on May 17, 2005. The judge awarded costs of $31,784 to the plaintiff on January 6, 2006.
The plaintiff was paid $198,000.