North Miami man’s case against tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds will continue

An 87-year-old former smoker from North Miami will be able to bring his lawsuit against tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds to a jury after an appellate court ruled in his favor Wednesday.

Everett Belanger successfully appealed a 2011 ruling from Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko, who dismissed Belanger’s claim that cigarettes made him sick.

In finding 2-1 on behalf of Belanger this week, the Third District Court of Appeal noted that he began smoking when he was 10 years old. He testified that he quit 45 years later, on Aug. 29, 1981.

“[T]hat is when I realized to myself, you sick son of a bitch, you are reaching for something that is killing you,” Belanger said in a deposition. “I threw the pack away...I never had another cigarette.”

Belanger’s doctors diagnosed him with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 1993. That was Belanger’s first medical evidence that cigarettes may have affected his health, the appellate court said. His deposition admission that he believed in 1981 that cigarettes were “killing” him did not carry the same weight as his medical diagnosis in 1993, the court said.

“The trial court erred in concluding that Belanger ... reasonably should have known that he was suffering from a medical condition or disease caused by smoking,” the justices wrote in their opinion.

Belanger’s case against R.J. Reynolds, which he originally filed in 2007, will go back to Miami-Dade court for a jury trial.

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