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Justices Set Arguments On Damages In Smoker’s Death

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments in June in a case that focuses on the amount of damages an adult child should be able to receive in the smoking-related death of her mother.

Justices issued an order Wednesday that scheduled arguments June 6 in the Palm Beach County case.

The Supreme Court was divided in December about whether to take up the case, which was filed against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. by Gwendolyn Odom, whose mother, Juanita Thurston, died of lung cancer after smoking cigarettes.

Justices voted 4-3 to take up the dispute but did not schedule oral arguments until Wednesday.

In the case, a jury found R.J. Reynolds at fault and awarded $6 million in compensatory damages. That amount was reduced to $4.5 million, because Thurston was held to be 25 percent responsible for her illness, according to court documents. The jury also awarded $14 million in punitive damages.

But the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled the compensatory-damage award was excessive for a case brought by the adult child of a dead smoker. It rejected the compensatory-damage award and, as an extension, the amount of punitive damages.

In asking the Supreme Court to take up the case, Odom's attorneys wrote, in part, that the 4th District Court of Appeal ruling failed to recognize the “unique role” adult children can play in caring for their parents.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince agreed in December to take up the case, while justices Charles Canady, Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson dissented.