On April 14, 2010, SDSBS attorneys Bill Norton, Brian Denney and Hardee Bass won a $21 million verdict against Big Tobacco for their clients in Escambia County Florida for the wrongful death of Janie Mae Clay. The jury awarded $3.4 million for compensatory damages to the statutory survivors, Teddy Clay, Janie Clay and Larry Clay and another $18 million for punitive damages against R.J. Reynolds and Liggett tobacco companies. Prior to the trial, the clients offered to settle the case with RJ Reynolds for $75 thousand and offered to settle with Liggett for $25 thousand. These offers were rejected.
An Escambia County jury found that Janie Mae Clay, who died at age 58 and smoked for approximately 40 years, was addicted to nicotine in cigarettes and that her addiction caused her death. The jury also found that Janie Mae Clay relied on false and misleading statements from R.J. Reynolds and Liggett tobacco companies to her detriment. The jury also found that punitive damages were warranted. The tobacco companies argued that Janie Mae Clay was not addicted to nicotine in cigarettes and that she could have quit any time she wanted to. The tobacco companies also argued strenuously against punitive damages. The jury rejected those arguments.
Janie Mae Clay was a bus driver for Head Start in Escambia County and also for the School Board. Mrs. Clay was a devoted wife and mother and spent her time away from work caring for her family, including her special needs daughter, Janie. Mrs. Clay began smoking in 1958 and continued smoking until 1998, despite numerous quit attempts, when her lungs began failing her due to severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease caused by cigarettes. She died in 2003. Her family continues to mourn her loss but takes comfort in the fact that a jury of their peers administered justice.
For more information on quitting smoking, please visit www.tobaccofreeflorida.com and the Florida QUITLINE at 1-877-U-CAN-NOW