Tampa, FL—As trial opened in this Engle progeny suit against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., opposing counsel debated whether there was enough medical evidence to find that smoking cigarettes caused the cancer that killed 59-year-old Hayward Bryant.
Hayward Bryant's widow, plaintiff Doris Bryant, claims that R.J. Reynolds’s decades-long scheme to conceal the dangers of smoking, while simultaneously controlling the level of nicotine in cigarettes, led to Hayward Bryant’s cigarette addiction and his death from lung cancer in 1996. During his opening statement, John “Hutch” Pinder, Doris Bryant's attorney, acknowledged that key medical records concerning Bryant’s cancer had been destroyed by a medical center. However, Pinder detailed Hayward Bryant’s 38-plus-year smoking habit and told jurors they would hear expert testimony that would establish that Bryant's smoking caused his lung cancer. “When you walk through the courtroom doors… we don’t ask you to leave your common sense at the door. You bring it with you,” Pinder said. “Your common sense will tell you that (Hayward Bryant’s) addiction to nicotine, from smoking cigarettes, was the cause of his lung cancer.”
However, R.J. Reynolds attorney Stephen Kaczyinski told jurors that the lack of medical evidence raised too many questions for Doris Bryant to prove her case. “There are huge gaps in plaintiff’s proof that you’re going to be asked to fill by guesswork and leaps of faith,” Kaczynski said. “No CSI (television show) script would ever be written based on what you’ll see here."
Kaczynski told jurors that a key element to determining whether Bryant’s cancer was caused by his smoking, the disease’s cell type, is one of many unknown issues in the case. “When you walked through the doors of this courthouse on Monday morning, you had no idea what the cell type is in this case. When you leave the courthouse after rendering the verdict in a few weeks, you still won’t know what the cell type was,” Kaczynski said.
Kaczynski also told jurors that Bryant knew smoking was dangerous, yet smoked up to 2 packs of cigarettes a day by choice rather than because of addiction. “There was widespread publicity about the risks” of smoking, Kaczynski said. “At the end of the day, the choices that resulted were choices he made for reasons that were good and sufficient to him. And these choices, not any addiction, were the legal cause… of his death.”
By contrast, Pinder detailed internal tobacco industry documents in which R.J. Reynolds appears to know of the addictiveness and dangers of smoking, while engaging in efforts to conceal that knowledge from the general public. “Every Winston (cigarette Bryant) ever smoked contained nicotine that was addictive. Every single one of those cigarettes causes lung cancer,” Pinder said. Yet R.J. Reynolds “manufactured their cigarettes to be addictive, and they lied about it every day of Hayward Bryant’s life.”
The trial is expected to last through the month.