Stella Koballa v. Philip Morris began with an opening statement by plaintiff attorney Dennis Pantazis, of Wiggins, Childs, Quinn & Pantazis.
Mr. Pantazis told the jury that Stella Koballa started smoking at age 16, and continued smoking for 45 years. Mr. Pantazis described the diagnostic tests that allegedly showed that Ms. Koballa was strongly addicted to nicotine, and showed the jury a medical record characterizing Ms. Koballa as "cigarette addicted."
According to Mr. Pantazis, the evidence would show that 80%-90% of smokers are addicted because nicotine causes physical changes in the brain. Mr. Pantazis showed a slide titled "Why Can't Addicts Quit," and told the jury that chemical addiction is very different from other types of addiction, such as gambling, because of the chemical changes induced, "and the addicted brain never goes back."
Mr. Pantazis described Ms. Koballa's quit attempts, which included hypnosis, hypnosis and tapes, accupuncture, and a nicotine patch, none of which resulted in a permanent "remission" of her addiction. Ms. Koballa permanently quit after she was diagnosed with lung cancer had had part of her lung removed. Although her cancer was cured, Ms. Koballa's COPD grew progressively worse. Mr. Pantazis characterized as "ridiculous" the defense's anticipated suggestion that Ms. Koballa's illnesses resulted from asthma or something other than 45 years of smoking.
For the defense, Carlton Fields' Benjamine Reid told the jury, "Ms. Koballa's illness was caused by a long-standing lung problem which she had experienced for many years -- for most of her life, actually -- and not from smoking."
Mr. Reid also told the jury that Ms. Koballa was not addicted to cigarettes containing nicotine. "The best, clearest example of that evidence...is the fact that she quit, fourteen years ago, and hasn't smoked since. But before she quit, you will hear evidence that, she was able to control her smoking, as opposed to saying her smoking controlled her. She smoked when she wanted to smoke; when she wanted to quit, she quit. And the reason she went back and forth was not because of anything about the cigarette -- it was Ms. Koballa's decision that she made to begin smoking again."
Mr. Reid told the jury that 20% of smokers get COPD, but 20% of non-smokers with asthma also get COPD. "So your job in this case is to determine which category Ms. Koballa falls in. You can't just say because she smoked, she has COPD, and smoking can cause it, you can't just decide that it must have caused hers...Throughout her life, she was subjected to many, many, many insults to her lungs," such as meat wrappers asthma and coal dust.