Walter Kelley Wins $200M Verdict Against RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company

Talk of the Town Case Update

BOSTON, MA—A Massachusetts state court jury has held R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company accountable to a close-knit Massachusetts family for the wrongful death of their matriarch, Rita Jones. Rita began smoking as a 16-year-old after receiving free samples of Newport menthol cigarettes on the streets of Roxbury in 1964.

Walter Kelley of Bernheim Kelley Battista, LLC, and Randy Rosenblum represented Treniece Jones as the personal representative for Rita Jones’ estate in Suffolk Superior Court, claiming negligence, civil conspiracy, and defective product liability. Following an exhaustive three-week trial and approximately 13 hours of deliberation, the Boston jury sided with the plaintiff on all counts and awarded a total of $200 million in damages based on the evidence they were presented and the law they were instructed on. This amount included $25 million in compensatory damages for Rita’s medical bills and pain and suffering, $5 million to each of Rita’s five children, and $150 million in punitive damages to punish RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company for their willful, wanton, and reckless conduct that caused Rita Jones’ lung cancer and death.

Rita Jones was a heavy smoker of one to two packs of Newport 100 cigarettes per day for over 50 years, despite numerous unsuccessful attempts to quit dating back to the early 1980s. She was diagnosed with metastatic stage 4 lung cancer in July 2015 after presenting to the emergency room with complaints of shortness of breath. After three long years of fighting for her life and enduring unimaginable pain and suffering, Rita Jones finally succumbed to her cancer diagnosis in August 2018. Rita was survived by her loving husband of 51 years, her five adult children, and her grandchildren.

The jury’s decision held Reynolds accountable for its strategy throughout the trial of attempting to shift the entire responsibility for Jones’ death onto her, attributing zero blame to the company, despite her initial receipt of free cigarette samples. Shortly after being handed the free sample packs of Newport cigarettes in Roxbury, she purchased her first pack of cigarettes and remained loyal to Newport cigarettes for the following five decades.

This landmark verdict stands as a poignant reminder of the perils of smoking defectively designed menthol cigarettes and underscores the importance of holding tobacco companies accountable for the decisions they made to put profits over people. The plaintiff’s legal team takes immense pride in having assisted the family of Rita Jones in their quest for justice.


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