Jacksonville, FL—Jurors took less than six hours to find in favor of tobacco manufacturer R.J. Reynolds in an Engle progeny tobacco suit by the son of a 57-year-old smoker who died from lung cancer. Ken Ellis v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
The six jurors answered "no" to the question of whether Betty Owens, who died after more than 40 years of smoking, was addicted to cigarettes and whether her addiction was the legal cause of her lung cancer. Ken Ellis, Owens's son, had sued R.J. Reynolds in the Engle progeny proceeding, claiming that the tobacco manufacturer had concealed the dangers of smoking while furthering Owens's addiction to cigarettes.
R.J. Reynolds made the issues of addiction and causation, fundamental elements to prevail in an Engle progeny suit, a focus of its defense. In closing statements yesterday, Steven Geise, counsel for R.J. Reynolds, argued that there was insufficient evidence to establish that Owens's adenocarcinoma cancer was caused by smoking. Geise reminded jurors in that there were no official medical records linking Owens's cancer to smoking. Geise also noted that Dr. Ronald Wright, Ellis's expert witness, had never examined Owens personally and had given conflicting answers over the years regarding the link between adenocarcinoma and smoking.
Geise also told jurors Ellis failed to carry his burden of proving Owens was addicted to cigarettes because Owens had never received that diagnosis from a physician who treated her. "I don't know what you do with that. You can't put that on a scale because it doesn't exist. It's a burden they have, that they can't prove," Geise said.
Instead, Geise characterized Owens as someone who smoked out of enjoyment and who freely complied with her children's request that she not smoke in their houses or around her grandchildren. "Mrs. Owens told her children she enjoyed smoking, it relaxed her, and she liked to smoke. Those are the reasons she offered, for smoking. She didn't say she was addicted. She didn't say she was unable to quit," Geise said.
By contrast, Ellis's attorney Laura Shamp reminded jurors that Dr. Tonia Werner, a psychiatrist and expert on addiction, considered Betty Owens addicted to cigarettes based on a review of Owens's history and the criteria established by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Shamp then criticized the testimony of defendant's witness, Jill Hayes, and the reasoning behind her opinion that Owens was not addicted to cigarettes. "(Hayes) said she thought (Owens) could quit. That was one of the reasons she told you," Shamp said. "If that's the standard, she could quit, no one is addicted. Nobody. Everybody who testified said addicted people can quit."
R.J. Reynolds's win in the case is the second Engle progeny win in a row for the tobacco manufacturer. Last week, a Dade County jury found in favor of R.J. Reynolds in an Engle suit brought by the family of a smoker who died after suffering from years respiratory problems. Baum v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.