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Battle Over Whether Smoking or Dental Problems Caused Man's Fatal Mouth Cancer, as Trial Against RJR Begins

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Jan 12, 2018 10:02:43 AM

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DeLand, FL—R.J. Reynolds’ role in a broad scheme to hide the dangers of cigarettes ultimately caused the mouth cancer that killed a 53-year-old Florida smoker, an attorney for the smoker’s widow claimed Thursday as trial began against the tobacco giant. Kelsey v. R.J. Reynolds, 2007 33215 CICI.

William Wichmann, of the Law Offices of William Wichmann, P.A., told jurors William Kelsey was one of many smokers caught in a multi-billion-dollar tobacco industry scheme designed to undermine evidence concerning the dangers of smoking.

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“They wanted to cast doubt. And they actually wrote in their documents, 'Doubt is our product.' The doubt being, the relationship between smoking and disease and the relationship between their product and people getting sick and people dying while they knew that what they were concealing from the American people was the truth,” Wichmann said Thursday. “And while they [did that they] knew that they were lying.”

William Kelsey smoked for more than 35 years before ultimately dying of mouth cancer in 1995. His wife, Dorothy, represented by Wichmann, claims Reynolds is responsible by concealing the addictiveness and dangers of the Camels and other brands her husband smoked.

In his opening, Wichmann outlined years of tobacco initiatives he said were designed to undermine the growing weight of scientific evidence on the dangers of cigarettes, all while Reynolds and other tobacco companies manipulated levels of nicotine in their product to keep smokers hooked.

Wichmann said Kelsey was so addicted to cigarettes he would motion for his family to light a cigarette for him at his bedside in hospice, even though his cancer had so badly damaged his mouth that he could no longer inhale it. “That’s how badly addicted this gentleman was,” Wichmann said.  “He couldn’t quit, even on his deathbed.”

The Kelsey case is one of thousands stemming from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a Florida state court class-action lawsuit 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 mouth cancer.

But the defense contends smoking did not cause Kelsey’s cancer. During his opening statement Friday morning, Jones Day’s John Walker told jurors Kelsey’s heavy drinking and years of dental problems more likely caused his cancer, and oncology testimony would conclude Kelsey would likely have developed mouth cancer even if he had never smoked.

Walker noted Kelsey, who needed dentures in his 20s because of problems with his teeth, would go years at a time without seeing the dentist. Evidence would show that failure led to the fatal progression of his cancer, Walker said, noting Kelsey’s death certificate did not mention smoking as a cause of his cancer death.

“Reynolds didn’t sell any of the whiskey that Mr. Kelsey drank. Reynolds didn’t make or sell any of the dentures that irritated Mr. Kelsey’s oral cavity. And Reynolds wasn’t responsible for maintaining Mr. Kesley’s oral hygiene,” Walker said. “But Reynolds is who the Kelseys are suing for money.”

Trial is expected to last through next week.

Related Information

Dorothy Kelsey is represented by William Wichmann, of the Law Offices of William Wichmann, P.A.

R.J. Reynolds is represented by Jones Day’s John Walker.

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Topics: Kelsey v. R.J. Reynolds, tobacco, Florida, Engle Progeny