BRADENTON — A judge this morning declared a mistrial in a lawsuit against major tobacco companies after a juror complained she could not go on with deliberations because her fellow jurors “are mean.”
Jimmie Willis, 69, who suffers from cancer as evidenced by a quarter-sized hole in his throat, will now have to come back in October for re-trial of his lawsuit against Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds.
Judge Edward Nicholas told the panel of five women and a man that an environment of “animosity” within the jury could not be overcome.
“We don’t want to put you in a circumstance of futility,” Nicholas said.
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One juror protested.
“We didn’t decide we couldn’t come up with a verdict,” she said.
“I realize there is a level of frustration,” the judge responded. “Especially when the stakes are high.”
The jury had been deliberating during several sessions since Thursday.
Willis is suing the tobacco companies, claiming his 36 years of smoking led to an addiction to nicotine that caused his cancer of the larynx. Defense attorneys argued he knew cigarettes were possibly dangerous to his health, and he had the choice to quit.
The lawsuit is one of the so-called “Engle progeny,” an estimated 8,000 lawsuits in Florida filed against tobacco companies after a 2006 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court.
In 1994, Miami Dr. Howard Engle, a smoker, lent his name to a class-action lawsuit against tobacco companies representing some 700,000 sick or deceased smokers in Florida.
A Miami jury eventually awarded $145 billion in punitive damages to be paid by the tobacco companies. An appeals court overturned that verdict, but the Florida Supreme Court later allowed members of the Engle class action to file individual suits against the tobacco companies.