A year after his husband died of lung cancer caused by smoking cigarettes, a Florida man has received $157 million in a court case against tobacco giants.
Edward Caprio was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 1996. He would then battle with the disease for the next 22 years until eventually dying at 74 in 2018. This then led to the large settlement in payment to Caprio’s husband Bryan Rintoul.
A Broward Country jury ordered, this past Friday, that tobacco giants R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris pay $48.2 million in punitive damages. On top of that, $9.2 million was awarded for pain, suffering, and medical bills. Both companies were found to be equally at fault because Caprio smoked both brands since he was 15. The jury also blamed the companies for marketing cigarettes to teenagers in the 1950s.
This case is monumental for same-sex couples. First, the Broward Circuit judge allowed the case to continue with Rintoul as the plaintiff after Caprio’s passing. Then, the jury voted to approve of Rintoul heading the wrongful death case despite Florida law.
In the state’s law, a surviving spouse can only sue for wrongful death if they were married before the illness’s diagnosis. For Rintoul and Caprio, the couple had not gotten married till 2015. This was days after marriage equality came to the nation. But the jury voted to approve Rintoul’s case believing the couple, who’ve been together for 35 years, would have married earlier.
“Bryan and Ed had been together for 40 years,” said Jonathan Gdanski, one of the plaintiff’s four attorneys from Schlesinger Law Offices, P.A. “We successfully argued that they would have married if they had been allowed to.”
“This is the largest award in a tobacco case in the last 5 or so years, and it is the only time that a same-sex couple has pursued a wrongful death case against this industry in Florida or anywhere in this country,” Gdanski explained. “For that matter, I am not familiar with any other same-sex wrongful death verdict of any type.”
“One of the more dramatic and compelling parts of this case is that while it was unique in so far it was the first same-sex wrongful death trial, that was not really a big deal to the jury, because the jury saw Bryan and Ed as any other normal married couple,” Gdanski added. “And so, the absence of any prejudice against their same-sex relationship is what makes the verdict and the outcome extra meaningful.”
Attorneys for the cigarette companies, however, say they are not through with this case. In court papers, they said the prosecution shouldn’t have been allowed to tell jurors that they were faced with a “historic” opportunity to award the couple. They also say the prosecution shouldn’t have been able to tell the jury about Altria’s, a parent company of Philip Morris, year-old $12.8 billion investment in Juul as a way to market a younger demographic.
“They kill two-thirds of their regular customers and then hook their children and call them replacement smokers,” Schlesinger said.
A spokesman from Altria told NBC News that the company will fight the enormous settlement, “We will promptly seek further review of this verdict. We believe that the punitive damages award is grossly excessive and a clear violation of constitutional and state law.”
As for Rintoul, he’s celebrating the long-fought battle.
“I did it for Ed,” he said, his voice cracking with emotion. “He deserved his day in court. He suffered so terribly.”