A Fort Lauderdale state court jury awarded Schlefstein with a $41.8 million dollar verdict against R.J. Reynolds for its responsibility in causing respiratory disease to a Florida woman. South Florida lawyers Alex Alvarez and Gary Paige teamed up on February 8, 2018, for the smokers estate. The duo attorneys represented Schelfstein in a unique case in which, R.J. Reynolds withdrew the comparative fault defense before trial began. Furthermore, the tobacco giant did not try to partially blame Schlesfstein for her chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD.
In 1995, Schlefstein, a long time smoker of 30 years finally kicked the habit when doctors diagnosed her with COPD. After multiple attempts, from Nicorette gum, hypnosis and even an ear stimulator, she was finally able to quit with the help of the nicotine patch.
“She was on oxygen at all times and was out of breath even lifting her arms,” said Paige.
Despite quitting, in 2001, her disease worsened forcing her to undergo a lung transplant. The steroids and other medications following the lung transplant caused complications such as weight gain, kidney failure and diabetes. At age 63, Schlefstein died of an unrelated condition. Schlefstein won for suffering 14 years after she was diagnosed with the disease.
“Of all the cases we’ve had with live plaintiffs, this one was the worst suffering I’ve ever seen,” Alvarez said.
Leslie Schlefstein, husband of 40 years to smoker, carried on the case after her death arguing that R.J. Reynolds should be held responsible for punitive damages for conspiring to hide the dangers of nicotine that caused his wife to become addicted as a teenager.
In the punitive phase, the verdict followed a $14 million compensatory award and $28 million for punitive damages for R.J Reynolds’ role in the respiratory disease causing suffering after decades of smoking cigarettes made by the company.
Case: Leslie Schlefstein v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
Case No.: 2008-CV-022558
Filing date: May 20, 2008
Verdict date: Feb. 5, 2018
Judge: Broward Circuit Judge Mily Rodriguez Powell
Plaintiffs attorneys: Alex Alvarez, The Alvarez Law Firm, Coral Gables; Gary Paige, Gordon & Doner, Davie
Defense attorneys: W. Ray Persons and Kathryn Lehman, Atlanta, Scott Edson, Washington, King & Spalding
Verdict amount: $41.8 million