R.J. Reynolds Nicked with $750K Verdict in Widower's Suit Over Fatal Lung Cancer

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Sep 1, 2015 11:51:00 PM

Parker-Lewis

Stephanie Parker tells jurors that Rosemary Lewis was warned repeatedly about the dangers of cigarettes. Jurors Tuesday awarded Lewis' widower, James Lewis, $750,000 in his suit against R.J. Reynolds for the role the company's cigarettes played in her lung cancer. Watch Parker's closing argument.


Daytona Beach, FL—Jurors Tuesday awarded a Florida widower $750,000 for the death of his wife, after finding that her four decades of smoking R.J. Reynolds cigarettes, but not the company’s marketing tactics, caused her fatal lung cancer. Lewis v. R.J. Reynolds, 2009-30058-CIC.

Rosemary Lewis smoked Reynolds brand cigarettes from about 1963 until her death from lung cancer in 1998. Her husband, James Lewis, sued Reynolds, claiming the tobacco company’s decades of concealing smoking’s health effects caused his wife’s nicotine addiction and cancer.

Watch Video from Tobacco Trials Tuesday's verdict capped a nine-day trial and found that, although Rosemary Lewis was addicted to nicotine, she did not reasonably rely on decades of Reynolds tactics designed to hide the dangers of cigarettes. Jurors also found Lewis 75% responsible for the smoking that caused her lung cancer, apportioning only 25% of liability to Reynolds. The jury’s findings, and its denial of punitive damages, will likely reduce the $750,000 compensatory award to $187,500 post-verdict.

Lewis’ case is one of thousands of similar Florida lawsuits against U.S. tobacco companies. The cases arise from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision decertifying Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a class action tobacco case originally filed in 1994. The state’s supreme court ruled that each Engle plaintiff must establish class membership individually, by proving nicotine addiction that caused a smoking-related disease. Once plaintiffs prove class membership, they can rely on certain jury findings in the original verdict, including the determination that tobacco companies such as Reynolds sold a dangerous, addictive product. 

Tuesday’s verdict found Lewis established Engle class membership, but the jury's refusal to find a causal link between Reynolds' marketing and Rosemary Lewis' lung cancer likely played a key role in the relatively small award. Last July, a Miami jury awarded nearly $13.5 million to the widower of a woman it found to have died from mouth cancer caused by Reynolds' concealment of smoking's health effects. A month earlier, another Miami jury awarded $776,000 to an Engle progeny plaintiff after finding no causal link between Reynolds marketing and a smoker's fatal respiratory disease.   

During Monday's closing arguments, attorneys for both sides debated whether Rosemary Lewis’ smoking decisions were influenced by Reynolds marketing. Wiggins Childs’ Dennis Pantazis reminded jurors of thousands of documents implicating Reynolds in a tobacco industry scheme to hide the dangers of smoking while it marketed cigarettes to rebellious youth. Highlighting testimony that Rosemary Lewis began smoking as a teenager to defy her mother, Pantazis said “Even (Reynolds) knew that was a smoker they wanted to target, and they did target, and she became addicted and smoked their products for all of her life. Unfortunately her life ended at age 51 because of their actions.”

The defense argued there was no evidence Reynolds' messages influenced Rosemary Lewis and contended potential tobacco company warnings would not have prevented her from smoking. During Monday’s closing arguments Jones Day’s Stephanie Parker reminded jurors of deposition testimony in which Rosemary Lewis claimed never to have read federally mandated warning labels on cigarettes packs. “If (James Lewis’ attorneys) are claiming that Mrs. Lewis did not read those warnings that were on every package of cigarettes that she bought, every one of them,” Parker asked, “why would you think that any earlier information from Reynolds would have made a difference to her?”

Neither the parties’ attorneys nor Reynolds representatives could be reached for comment.


Related information

James Lewis is represented by Ogle Law's William Ogle and Wiggins Childs’ Dennis Pantazis. R.J. Reynolds is represented by Jones Day's Stephanie Parker and Timothy Fiorta.

Watch gavel-to-gavel coverage of Lewis v. R.J. Reynolds on demand.

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Topics: Negligence, Products Liability, tobacco, Florida, Lewis v. R.J. Reynolds

Takeda Defends Diabetes Drug Actos At $2 Billion Product Liability Trial

Posted by David Siegel on Aug 31, 2015 12:03:00 PM

Cohen_opening

Takeda defense attorney Lori Cohen shows jurors a chart contrasting the number of deaths caused each year by diabetes versus bladder cancer. Click here to see video from the trial. 

Las Vegas — An attorney for Japanese drug manufacturer Takeda Pharmaceutical Co Ltd. told a Nevada state court jury on Friday that the best-selling diabetes drug Actos is safe and effective, in a lawsuit claiming the medication causes bladder cancer that could leave the company on the hook for $2 billion in damages.

Takeda attorney Lori Cohen of Greenberg Traurig LLP told jurors during her opening statement that two men who sued the company after taking Actos, 77-year-old George Decou and Maurice Iorio, who died in 2013 at 74, developed bladder cancer from smoking tobacco, which is a well-known risk factor for the disease. She also argued that medical studies have failed to show a link between taking Actos and cancer.

Cohen highlighted the results of a recent study performed by Kaiser Permanente and the University of Pennsylvania that found no statistically significant link between taking pioglitazone, as Actos is known generically, and developing bladder cancer. She said Actos had a proven track record of successfully helping patients with type-2 diabetes, a disease she said kills far more people every year than bladder cancer.

"When this case is over, our team will stand before you all, based on the science and medicine, hard facts, the evidence and the proof, and ask you for a full defense verdict on behalf of our client and for this tremendous drug Actos that has really brought so much good to the world and is so safe and effective," Cohen said, according to a Courtroom View Network webcast of the trial(Click here to see video from the trial.)

New Call-to-action Actos was launched in 1999 and jointly marketed with Eli Lilly & Co., and it quickly become one of Takeda’s top-selling drugs, generating $4.5 billion in revenue in 2011 alone. Regulators in France and Germany yanked Actos from the market in 2011, the same year that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration issued a warning that the drug could cause an increased risk of bladder cancer while still allowing it to be sold in the United States.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs had argued to the jury the day before Cohen’s opening statement that Takeda knew about the possible cancer risk associated with Actos as far back as 1993, when the drug was still being tested on lab rats. They claimed the drug company wanted to keep that information secret in order to maximize profits before their exclusive patent on pioglitazone expired in 2012, going so far as to destroy hard drives and shred internal documents despite an Actos-related litigation hold issued in 2002.

As part of his instructions to the jury, Judge Jerry Wiese said that the court had determined Takeda intentionally destroyed these materials to scuttle potential Actos lawsuits, and that jurors should assume any Actos-related information destroyed by Takeda contained information prejudicial to the company’s position.

Takeda’s document destruction played a central role in a bellwether Actos trial last year in federal court that ended with a massive $9 billion verdict against the company. U.S. District Judge Rebecca Doherty ultimately cut the award to $36 million, but also excoriated Takeda for intentionally destroying the materials.

While plaintiffs’ attorney Robert Eglet began his opening statement with a lengthy history of Takeda’s document destruction, Cohen only touched on the issue briefly more than two hours into her opening. She told jurors that evidence presented at trial would prove that the materials Takeda destroyed did not contain prejudicial information.

“That’s what I’m going to say about that issue,” Cohen said. “I hope you see that there is another side to it.”

Eglet said in a statement that Takeda's conduct warrants a multi-billion dollar punitive damages verdict.

"Without substantial punitive damages there is nothing to deter a company of this size from engaging in the same unconscionable, deadly practices again," he said

Nine other Actos lawsuits have gone to trial before this current case. Juries ruled against Takeda five times, although two of those verdicts were later thrown out by judges. Two of Takeda’s victories occurred in Las Vegas, including a trial where the same plaintiff attorneys in the current case unsuccessfully sought a multi-billion dollar verdict.

The trial is being closely watched due to the impact a large plaintiffs’ verdict could have on a potential $2.4 billion settlement that would resolve thousands of Actos lawsuits consolidated in multidistrict litigation pending in Louisiana federal court. 95 percent of Actos plaintiffs need to opt in for the deal to take effect, but to date only 75 percent have signed on. A large verdict in the current case could encourage more holdouts to take their cases to trial.

CVN is recording and webcasting the full trial gavel-to-gavel, after also recording the two prior Actos cases in Las Vegas and the first bellwether Actos suit to go to trial anywhere in the country in 2013. A California appellate court in July reinstated a $6.5 million verdict in that case after a lower court judge granted Takeda’s request for a new trial.

The plaintiffs in the current case are represented by Eglet Prince and Kemp and by Jones & Coulthard.

Takeda is represented by Greenberg Traurig LLP and by Snell & Wilmer.

The case is George Decou, et al. v. Takeda Pharmaceuticals America Inc., et al., case number A-13-683446-C in Nevada’s Eighth Judicial District Court in Clark County.

E-mail David Siegel at dsiegel@cvn.com

Topics: Products Liability, Pharmaceutical, Nevada

Watch the Argument that Led to a $9.8M Punitive Award Against Construction Firm| Florida Trial Video Vault

Posted by Courtroom View Network on Aug 28, 2015 4:10:00 PM


A case involving an intervening cause raises an added challenge to a plaintiff's attorney: convincing jurors to look beyond the most obvious defendant responsible for an accident and instead link a plaintiff's injuries to actions that may have occurred weeks, months, or years earlier.  This is particularly true in cases claiming a corporate defendant's decisions led another, unrelated defendant to cause an accident. In Young v. Nyberg, et al., Marc Matthews delivers a closing argument that convincingly completes the link between a construction company's alleged breach of safety standards on a roadside utility project and a fatal car crash.

New Call-to-action In 2009, a Chevy sedan driven by Roger Nyberg struck a Buick driven by Allen Young, sending Young and his car into a concrete pole being used on the project. Young suffered severe neck and spinal injuries and died three years later. His son, Timothy Young, sued Nyberg and others, including L.E. Myers, the company that oversaw the construction project. 

At trial, Young's attorneys argued Nyberg would not have struck the concrete pole if L.E. Myers had closed the lane of traffic closest to the work. In closing arguments, Young's attorney, Marc Matthews, walked jurors through evidence of lane closure requirements he claimed L.E. Myers ignored to save money. Acknowleding that Nyberg was the direct cause of the collision, he urged jurors to look beyond Nyberg and hold the construction company responsible for the collision that killed Young. Comparing the the project to a death trap, Matthews told jurors, "In the end, Mr. Nyberg just sprung the trap. He didn't set it. That trap was set when the lane wasn't closed. The company (L.E. Myers) set that trap, and they made money in the process."

Matthews' closing sealed the connection for jurors between Young's death and L.E. Myers. And, it ultimately paved the way for an $11 million verdict, including $9.8 million in punitive damages against the contruction company. 


Related Information

Watch gavel-to-gavel coverage of Young v. Nyberg. 

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Topics: Negligence, Florida, Video Highlight, Young v. Nyberg

U.S. Sugar Faces Trial Over Worker's Claim of Career-Ending Rail Yard Accident

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Aug 28, 2015 1:47:15 PM

Valdes-Fleming

Daniel Fleming tells jurors that Manuel Valdes was not injured in an accident at a South Central Florida Express railroad depot. Fleming represents South Central, and its parent company, U.S. Sugar, in a suit brought by Manuel Valdes.


West Palm Beach, FL—As trial opened Wednesday in a rail yard laborer's suit against U.S. Sugar and its short line railroad, attorneys debated the circumstances and severity of the depot accident that allegedly left Manuel Valdes with an artificial hip and post-concussion syndrome. Valdes v. U.S. Sugar Corp., 2012CA017292.

Valdes, who worked for South Central Florida Express, claims he was injured when he fell from a company truck as it pulled away from the railroad’s depot in 2012. He is suing both the railroad and its owner, U.S. Sugar, claiming the truck’s driver, company foreman Sam Mallo, failed to check side safety mirrors before putting the truck in motion as Valdes tried to retrieve his backpack from the truck bed.

New Call-to-action During openings on Wednesday, Valdes’ attorney, Rossman, Baumberger, Reboso, & Spier’s Howard Spier, accused U.S. Sugar of failing to preserve important physical evidence that would support Valdes’ version of the accident. “We have a lot of information as to what happened, but not a lot of physical evidence to show you, because the (accident) scene was not preserved in any way,” Howard Spier said. “There (are) no skid marks we can show you, if there were any. We can’t show you a picture of the backpack in the bed of the truck.”

Spier told jurors accident accounts from two South Central employees largely supported Valdes’ version of events, but changed once Valdes filed suit. For example, Spier said Terry Combass, a coworker who saw the incident, initially completed an accident report that corroborated Valdes’ description of the fall. However, “deposition-wise, when he’s got a lawyer, litigation is ongoing, (Combass) says ‘Well, he didn’t really fall to the ground. I didn’t mean that,’” Spier said. “You’ll get to consider all that.”

However, the defense argues that witness testimony suggests Valdes is exaggerating the circumstances surrounding the accident. Melkus, Fleming & Gutierrez's Daniel J. Fleming, representing U.S. Sugar and South Central, told jurors Wednesday that Valdes was never thrown from the truck but instead waved his arm wildly and cried out as soon as the truck began to move, then slowly lowered himself from to the ground. “The truck didn’t knock him down. He didn’t fall off anything,” Fleming said. 

Since the accident, Valdes has undergone two rotator cuff surgeries, a hip replacement, and wears a hearing aid to counteract what he claims is post-concussion tinnitus. However, Fleming argued that medical evidence would show that Valdes was not injured in the 2012 incident. “The doctors that saw plaintiff in the days, weeks, and even the first couple of months never once admitted him to the hospital, never once said you’ve got to go have surgery,” Fleming said.

Instead, Fleming said magnetic resonance imaging performed months after the accident showed long-term degenerative shoulder damage unrelated to the incident.

Spier acknowledged Valdes experienced shoulder pain prior to being hired by South Central, but the acident ultimately injured his career with the company.  Valdes “passes all the exams and tests, the physical exams, apparently with flying colors (in 2011),” Spier said. “And from that point on, he’s working until this incident occurs. And, now we have these issues and these surgeries.”

Trial is expected to last through next week.

Neither the parties’ attorneys nor representatives for the corporations could be reached for comment.

Email Arlin Crisco at acrisco@cvn.com.


Related Information

Manuel Valdes is represented by Rossman, Baumberger, Reboso, & Spier’s Howard Spier and Jarrett DeLuca, of Vinas & DeLuca. U.S. Sugar Corp. and South Central Florida Express are represented by Melkus, Fleming & Gutierrez's Daniel J. Fleming.

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Topics: Negligence, Florida, Transportation, Valdes v. US Sugar

$2 Billion Suit Over Popular Diabetes Drug Actos' Alleged Cancer Risks Goes To Trial

Posted by David Siegel on Aug 27, 2015 6:25:00 PM

Eglet_opening

Plaintiffs' attorney Robert Eglet shows jurors the type of hard drives he claimed Takeda destroyed because they contained evidence that the widely-prescribed diabetes medication Actos causes bladder cancer. Click here to see video from the trial. 

Las Vegas  Japanese drug manufacturer Takeda Pharmaceuticals Co. Ltd. should pay $2 billion in damages after intentionally destroying hard drives containing evidence that their blockbuster diabetes medication Actos caused bladder cancer, according to an attorney representing two men who took the drug in a closely-watched suit that went to trial on Thursday in Nevada state court. 

Plaintiffs’ attorney Robert Eglet began his opening statement in the high-stakes case by telling jurors that Takeda destroyed incriminating evidence despite a litigation hold issued in 2002 requiring them to preserve materials related to the alleged cancer risks of Actos, which was one of the company’s top-selling drugs. He said Actos caused bladder cancer in his clients George Decou and Maurice Iorio, but told jurors that “pieces of the puzzle” necessary to prove that claim were missing because of Takeda’s cover-up.

“Takeda has prevented you from knowing the whole truth about the diabetes drug Actos that they produce, and that it can cause bladder cancer,” Eglet told jurors, according to a Courtroom View Network webcast of the proceedings. (Click here to see video from the trial.)

The trial's outcome could play a key role in determining whether or not a $2.4 billion proposed settlement between Takeda and plaintiffs in nearly 8,000 similar lawsuits survives. 95 percent of Actos plaintiffs need to accept the settlement’s terms, which offer an average payout of $250,000, before the deal would kick in. To date only 75 percent have signed on, and a large award in the current trial could persuade holdout plaintiffs to take their claims to a jury instead of settling. 

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Eglet lost his bid in 2014 to hit Takeda with a multi-billion dollar verdict at a previous Actos trial in Las Vegas, but a federal jury that same year slammed the company with a staggering $9 billion verdict over the drug. U.S. District Judge Rebecca Doherty ultimately cut the award to $36 million, but also excoriated Takeda for intentionally destroying Actos-related evidence, a subject placed front and center in Eglet’s opening statement.

He repeated jury instructions from Judge Jerry Wiese, which said jurors should presume that missing Actos-related information on hard drives destroyed by Takeda contained information adverse to the company’s position.

“The Court has determined that the defendants willfully and intentionally destroyed certain documents and information, and that such destruction occurred for the purposes of prejudicing individuals who could ultimately use such documents and information against defendants for litigation purposes,” Judge Wiese's jury instructions state.

Takeda has argued that Iorio, who died in 2013 and Decou developed bladder cancer from smoking, and that their illnesses can’t be clearly linked to taking Actos.

Company spokeswoman Sandy Rodriguez told CVN that Takeda has extensive clinical data showing that there isn’t a provable link between taking Actos and developing bladder cancer, including a 10-year study performed by the University of Pennsylvania and Kaiser Permanente.

“Takeda continues to believe that the claims made in the litigation are without merit and stands firmly behind the substantial data confirming a positive benefit/risk profile for Actos,” Rodriguez said. “As a company, we believe Takeda acted responsibly with regard to Actos, and we will vigorously defend Takeda in this case.”

Takeda’s opening statements are scheduled to begin Friday morning. 

Actos generated $4.5 billion in sales in 2011 and made up 27 percent of Takeda’s revenue that year, according to Bloomberg News, and Eglet argued to jurors that Takeda withheld information about the drug’s supposed cancer risks to protect those huge profits. He said Takeda didn’t disclose Actos’ potential dangers until a few months before the company’s patent on the drug expired in 2012, despite allegedly knowing of them as far back as 1993 when Actos was still being developed and tested on rats.

“Takeda was purposely untruthful to its consumers,” Eglet told the jury, suggesting that Takeda wanted to maximize Actos sales while it enjoyed an exclusive patent on pioglitazone, the generic name for Actos.

Actos was launched in 1999 and jointly marketed with Eli Lilly & Co., and it quickly become one of Takeda’s top-selling drugs. Regulators in France and Germany yanked Actos from the market in 2011, the same year that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration issued a warning that the drug could cause an increased risk of bladder cancer while still allowing it to be sold in the United States.

Nine Actos cases have gone to trial since an initial bellwether case in California state court in 2013, including three trials recorded gavel-to-gavel by CVN. Juries ruled against Takeda in five of those cases, although two of those verdicts were later thrown out by judges. However in July a California appeals court reinstated the first $6.5 million plaintiffs verdict against Takeda after a lower court granted the company’s request for a new trial.

Eglet has a history of landing record-setting verdicts in Nevada courtrooms. A jury in 2013 returned a $524 million verdict against United Healthcare in a case tried by Eglet, after the insurer referred a patient to an endoscopy clinic where he was exposed to hepatitis. It was the largest plaintiffs verdict in Nevada history at the time, and the $2 billion Eglet seeks in the current case would far exceed that amount.

"Without substantial punitive damages there is nothing to deter a company of this size from engaging in the same unconscionable, deadly practices again," Eglet said in a statement.

The trial before Judge Wiese is being webcast live and recorded gavel-to-gavel by CVN and is available for online viewing along with past Actos cases and other high-stakes pharmaceutical product liability trials.

The plaintiffs are represented by Robert Eglet of Eglet Prince and Kemp and by Jones & Coulthard.

Takeda is represented by Snell & Wilmer.

The case is George Decou, et al. v. Takeda Pharmaceuticals America Inc., et al., case number A-13-683446-C in Nevada’s Eighth Judicial District Court in Clark County.

E-mail David Siegel at dsiegel@cvn.com

Topics: Products Liability, Pharmaceutical, Nevada

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