A Florida jury has awarded a gay widower $157 million in a landmark case recognizing the rights of same-sex couples who were unable to marry in decades past.
The case concerns Bryan Rintoul and Edward Caprio, a couple who were addicted to cigarettes for decades. Rintoul and Caprio met while working at an advertising agency in Los Angeles and moved in together in 1983. They relocated to Florida in 1986 and tried to quit smoking several times over the years. Caprio, who began smoking at the age of 15, was diagnosed with a respiratory illness due to smoking in 1996.
After Caprio passed away in 2018, Rintoul sued cigarette makers Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds for manipulating the addictive qualities of their cigarettes and marketing to children.
The lawsuit was complicated by the fact that in Florida, spouses can only sue for wrongful death if the diagnosis came after they were married. Although Caprio and Rintoul met in the 1970s and moved in together in the 1980s, they were unable to marry until 2015. Legally, they might not have been able to access the same rights as married couples due to outdated laws that prevented them from marrying.
But the judge in the case allowed it to move forward anyway, noting that the laws that prevented them from marrying for years were never constitutional. The jury awarded Rintoul $9 million this week in compensatory damages and the rest in punitive damages.
The tobacco companies responsible for Caprio’s death are likely to appeal the ruling.
Lambda Legal, which was not a party in the case, voiced praise for the outcome. “The jury got it right,” attorney Tara Borelli told the Sun Sentinel. “Florida’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples has always been unconstitutional, so it can never be used as an excuse to deny important benefits to survivors.”
In 1998, a court forced tobacco companies to release secret documents showing that they manipulated nicotine levels in cigarettes, making it harder for addicts to quit. On average, cigarettes kill 1,300 people every day.
The tobacco industry has placed particular focus on targeting the LGBTQ+ community, as research shows queer people are more than twice as likely to be smokers than the general population. The R.J. Reynolds company created an initiative targeting gay men and homeless people, which was known internally as “Project SCUM.”