Same-Sex Couple Wins Wrongful Death Case Against Tobacco Companies

by Sam Cronin

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday November 21, 2019

Bryan Rintoul, a gay man from Florida, was awarded damages Friday for a wrongful death suit filed against tobacco giants R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris. His husband, Edward Caprio, died last year. A Florida jury awarded Rintoul $157.4 million, including $9 million in compensatory damages. Rintoul's attorney has called this the first wrongful death case of this kind to involve a same-sex couple.

The jury placed equal blame on both tobacco companies, as Caprio had been a customer of their brands since his teenage years. He died at the age of 74 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease after suffering from the disease for 22 years.

"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," said Jonathan Gdanski, one of the plaintiff's four attorneys told NBC News. "For that matter, I am not familiar with any other same-sex wrongful death verdict of any type."

Normally, under Florida law, a surviving spouse may not sue for wrongful death unless the couple were married before the deceased contracted the disease which led to death. In this case, however, Caprio and Rintoul married in 2015, the first year a gay couple could legally marry in the US. The attorneys made a successful argument that, since the couple had been together for 35 years and would have married earlier had they been legally allowed, the rule did not apply here.

"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 said. "And so, the absence of any prejudice against their same-sex relationship is what makes the verdict and the outcome extra meaningful."

A spokesperson for Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, told NBC News in a statement Wednesday: "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."

Rintoul, for his part, was happy with the verdict and the outcome of the case.

"I feel that it is holding the tobacco companies accountable for their deceptive practices of many years," Rintoul told NBC. "And I feel it was a win for same-sex couples that they can feel they can have their day in court."

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