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Man gets $165,000 in tobacco lawsuit

Each side claims victory in a case that cost millions to bring to trial.

By DAVID KARP, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 13, 2001


Each side claims victory in a case that cost millions to bring to trial.

TAMPA -- For four weeks, Floyd Kenyon Sr. sat in the courtroom with an oxygen tank at his side.

As he watched his case unfold, the 73-year-old former school principal from Sarasota kept a mask over his face to help him breathe. During breaks, he used a wheelchair to move about.

Kenyon, who started smoking Camels when he was about 14, wanted a jury to force R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. to pay him for the suffering caused by a lifetime of smoking.

But after deliberating two days, the jury on Wednesday awarded Kenyon just $165,000, the amount of his past medical expenses to treat lung cancer and emphysema.

The six-person jury, which included five smokers, declined to award Kenyon and his wife money for punitive damages, pain and suffering, and loss of life.

"Overall, I think it is a victory for Reynolds," said Stephanie Parker, a lawyer from an Atlanta law firm who represented Reynolds. "We were very pleased that the jury found that our actions were reasonable."

She argued in court that Kenyon smoked even though he knew cigarettes harmed his health.

The company will ask Circuit Judge Herbert Baumann Jr. to overturn the $165,000 award. "I wish he had not gotten anything," Parker said. The lawsuit cost Reynolds and Howard Acosta, an attorney for the Kenyons, millions of dollars to bring to trial. At times, there were 12 lawyers for Reynolds in the courtroom, many from out of state. Reynolds also paid for a team of graphic technicians and for a second-by-second transcript of the proceedings.

"They could have settled the case for less than it cost to take Mr. Kenyon's deposition," said Acosta, who plans to seek legal fees from Reynolds.

Acosta called the verdict a victory. "It's another crack in the dam," he said.

Acosta represents about 15 smokers in individual lawsuits against tobacco companies.

Although the lawsuits cost him money, Acosta said he believes in the cause.

"I have seen so many people die and suffer from cigarette-related illness that it is shocking," he said. "I am just appalled."

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