West Palm Beach, FL—R.J. Reynolds and a tobacco industry scheme to hook young smokers to cigarettes played a central role in the cancer death of 42-year-old Florida woman, an attorney for the woman’s daughter told jurors Wednesday, as trial began against the tobacco giant. Adamson v. R.J. Reynolds, 2016CA008532.
“[R.J. Reynolds] used their knowledge and their control to design their cigarettes to be the perfect nicotine delivery device, to make sure that it could hook children, and that it could sustain addiction, so that people would smoke more, and more, and more cigarettes,” Morgan & Morgan’s Kathryn Barnett said Wednesday. “And it worked. Jackie Adamson’s body and brain were wired for addiction.”
Jacklyn Adamson began smoking as a teenager, and continued with up to two-and-a-half packs of cigarettes a day, until her 1993 cancer death. Her daughter, Julie Adamson, contends a decades-long scheme to hide the dangers of smoking led to her mother’s nicotine addiction and ultimately fatal lung cancer.
During Wednesday’s openings, Barnett previewed evidence she said showed Reynolds and cigarette makers conspired for years to undermine the growing weight of scientific evidence that smoking was addictive and dangerous.
Adamson, Barnett told jurors, was so addicted to cigarettes she was unable to quit even after her cancer diagnosis, needing Hospice workers to wheel her outside to smoke in her final days of life. “That’s the picture of addiction,” Barnett said. “That’s not somebody smoking just because they enjoy it or want to try to keep their weight down.”
The case is spun from a massive class action lawsuit, Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., originally filed in 1994. After a trial victory for the class members, the state’s supreme court ultimately decertified the class, but ruled that so-called Engle progeny cases may be tried individually. Engle progeny plaintiffs are entitled to the benefit of the jury's findings in the original verdict, including the determination that tobacco companies had placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and hid the dangers of smoking, if they prove the smoker at the heart of the case suffered from nicotine addiction that was the legal cause of a smoking-related disease such as lung cancer.
However, Reynolds contends there are insufficient details on the reasons behind Adamson’s smoking, or the cancer that followed, to link the cigarette maker to the woman’s death.
During Wednesday’s openings, King & Spalding’s Randall Bassett told jurors only three witnesses who knew Adamson would testify about her smoking. None, he said, were expected to definitively link tobacco marketing to Adamson’s smoking choices.
Bassett also questioned whether Adamson suffered from primary lung cancer, as her daughter maintains. The Reynolds attorney told jurors most of the potentially thousands of pages of records from Adamson’s 18 months of cancer treatment were unavailable, with Adamson’s husband destroying all of the records he possessed years after his wife’s death. “He made the decision to shred and destroy those records,” Bassett said. “You can infer from that destruction that the records that were otherwise available would have been harmful, or unfavorable to the plaintiff’s case.”
Bassett noted that only 42 pages of documents from three days of Adamson’s treatment late in her illness, after cancer had spread to her brain, remained. None, he said, provided a definitive diagnosis of primary lung cancer, a rare disease in 40-year-old women. “This case is about the lack of evidence,” Bassett said. “The lack of evidence on the very questions that are critical for your decision-making.”
Trial in the case is expected to last through next week.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Julie Adamson is represented by Morgan & Morgan’s Kathryn Barnett.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by King & Spalding’s Randall Bassett and Bethany Schneider.
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