February 11, 2011 / 11:47 PM / 9 years ago

Florida jury awards $260,000 to Tampa smoker

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida (Reuters) - A Florida jury ordered tobacco company R.J. Reynolds on Friday to pay $260,000 in damages to a Tampa man who developed cancer from smoking, court officials said.

The verdict was the latest among thousands of lawsuits against cigarette makers, known as “Engle progeny” cases, now working their way through courts in Florida.

Leroy Kirkland, 71, had sought punitive damages of more than $10 billion from Reynolds, a unit of Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based Reynolds American Inc, the largest award ever sought by an individual plaintiff.

The jury ordered the company to pay him $10,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages.

“We came up a little short, but we won,” said Willie Gray, a lawyer for Kirkland. He expected R.J. Reynolds to appeal the verdict.

Kirkland and his lawyer argued he developed cancer and emphysema from smoking.

A spokesman for R.J. Reynolds could not be immediately reached for comment.

The “Engle progeny” cases stem from Engle versus R.J. Reynolds, a landmark class-action lawsuit originally filed against cigarette makers in 1994.

Six years later, a Florida jury found that cigarettes cause lung cancer and other illness and ordered the tobacco companies to pay a record $145 billion in punitive damages to sick smokers.

But the Florida Supreme Court threw out the award in 2006 and decertified the original cases of about 700,000 Florida smokers, but ruled the individual cases could proceed.

That allowed for thousands of individual cases to move forward through Florida’s courts.

Reporting by Robert Green in Tampa and Kevin Gray in Miami; editing by Pascal Fletcher and Andre Grenon

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