“I followed through,” he said, voice cracking, in an interview with The Washington Post. “I followed through on a promise I made to Ed Caprio that I would pursue this in his memory. For him.”
The verdict represented a promise kept, but it also represented something more. Rintoul’s lawyers believe it was history-making — the first of its kind involving a same-sex couple in Florida, if not the United States as a whole.
In most wrongful death cases in the Sunshine State, a widow or widower cannot recover damages unless the fatal illness struck after the couple was married, the attorneys said. Because same-sex couples only gained the legal right to marry in 2015, that can be an impossible hurdle for them to clear.
Broward Circuit Judge David Haimes ruled last year that it would be unconstitutional to apply the rule in Rintoul’s case. Rintoul and Caprio married days after Florida legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, but their attorneys argued that the couple, who spent almost 40 years together, would have done so decades earlier if they had been allowed. Jurors agreed.
“This jury recognized Ed and Bryan with open arms,” said Steven Hammer, one of the lawyers. “And the bias and the prejudice that has been out there for years and years about gay couples, in this courtroom, didn’t exist.”
Steve Callahan, a spokesman for Philip Morris parent company Altria, said the company plans to seek further review of the verdict. He added, “We believe that the punitive damages award is grossly excessive and a clear violation of constitutional and state law.”
But Tara Borelli, a lawyer with the gay rights organization Lambda Legal, told the Sun Sentinel that the jury got it right. “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,” she said.
Rintoul, a Vietnam War veteran, and Caprio met in the 1970s while the two worked at the same advertising agency in Los Angeles. They moved in together in 1983, making a commitment to one another. They were barred from marrying for most of their years together, and yet they were like any other married couple, Rintoul said.
“We did the same thing that everybody else did,” he said. “We’d go to the movies, we’d have date night, we’d meet friends for dinner. … If we had a disagreement, I would go to him and I’d say, ‘Well, you need to apologize to me.’ And he’d go, ‘You need to apologize to me.’ And then we’d start laughing.”
In 1996, Caprio received a diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He had started smoking at age 15 and found cigarettes too addictive to give up — even after the diagnosis. He filed a lawsuit against the tobacco companies in 2007, enduring a trial that ended in a hung jury before he died and Rintoul took up the case on his behalf.
In court, their attorneys argued that the companies had intentionally caused young people to become addicted to their products. They pointed to Altria’s investment in the e-cigarette producer Juul — the company some critics accuse of creating a youth smoking epidemic — as evidence that Big Tobacco has not changed its ways.
“Adoption by youth is the key to their business,” attorney Scott Schlesinger said. “And while they speak out of one side of the mouth, actions speak louder than words.”
Rintoul said he has struggled without Caprio, whom he called the love of his life. He said he has felt a loneliness and devastation unlike other losses he has experienced. Some days, he said, he sits at the beach and talks to Caprio, whose ashes were spread at sea. “It’s a very lonely life now,” he said.
The jury’s verdict felt like a kind of confirmation of a feeling he and Caprio got when same-sex marriage was legalized in 2015: Their relationship of more than 30 years didn’t have to be in the shadows anymore. Rintoul noted that he grew up in the 1950s and 1960s and served in the military at a time when he could have been dismissed from the service for being gay.
“I ended up having to keep the secret for many, many, many years,” he said. “And now I just feel like it’s progressed to the point that the gay community doesn’t have to hide anymore.”