Opening Statements in Oliva v. RJR

Posted by msch on Mar 18, 2011 10:17:00 AM

Adam Trop Mark Belasic and Bill William GeraghtyOliva v. R.J. Reynolds (Green Cove Springs, Florida).

"This case is about a 15-year old boy who started smoking about fifty years ago," said Adam Trop of Trop & Ameen. "It was a time when most people his age -- 60% of people his age -- smoked cigarettes. No one knew they were harmful. At least, no one in the public knew they were harmful...Nobody knew that it was a deadly product. Mr. Oliva became addicted to this product, heavily addicted...and developed a terrible disease: emphysema or COPD....And he's in the end stage now. He's only 63 years old."

"But this case is also about America's two largest tobacco companies," Mr. Trop told the jury, "who for decades, carefully engineered a sophisticated product -- not a natural product, but a complex, sophisticated product -- that was engineered by the scientists at these tobacco companies who for decades -- fifty years -- lied to the public about the deadliness of the product, and took their best efforts to make this product as addictive as possible..."

For R.J. Reynolds, Jones Day's Mark Belasic told the jury, "The evidence in this case will show that Mr. Oliva was a willing smoker. He was a person who did choose to smoke, and who continued to smoke. And in his own words he will tell you that he enjoyed smoking. He'll say he absolutely enjoyed smoking."

"You're going to hear about other risks," Mr. Belasic continued. "He wasn't a man who shied away from risks. He engaged in a variety of activities that really caused deadly threats to his life. He was aware of those risks, and he took them...And when Mr. Oliva did decide to quit, he quit. And you're going to hear that from Mr. Oliva. He quit in 1997, when he made up his mind for the first time that this can't go on."

For Philip Morris, Shook Hardy Bacon's Bill Geraghty told the jury, "I think we can sum up what this case is about in two words: control and responsibility...Who was in control of Mr. Oliva's lifestyle choices? Who was in control of his efforts to quit smoking? Who controlled his motivation to quit? Was Mr. Oliva addicted -- was he so powerfully addicted that he was robbed of his free will, robbed of his own free will to make a decision? Or did he smoke of his own free will? And finally, as you listen to the evidence, did anything that R.J. Reynolds of Philip Morris did have a direct, substantial, and continuous impact on any of this decisions?"

"Mr. Oliva was fully aware of all the risks involved in every single one of those activites...But now he wants these companies to share responsibility for the decisions he made over the better part of 30 or 35 years."

Mr. Geraghty also described for the jury a statute of limitations issue in the case, which was whether Mr. Oliva should have known before May 5, 1990 that he had a chronic lung disease that was caused by smoking.

CVN is webcasting Oliva v. Reynolds live.

Topics: Toxic Torts, Products Liability, Engle Progeny, Oliva v. RJR, Tobacco Litigation