Philip Gerson delivers opening statements in Paul Larkin's suit against R.J. Reynolds for Carole Larkin's oral cancer.
Whether a decades-long smoker who contracted oral cancer knew the dangers of cigarettes in time to prevent her illness took center stage as trial opened Thursday in her husband’s suit against R.J. Reynolds.
Carole Larkin, a smoker for more than 30 years, died in 2000, two years after being diagnosed with cancer of her mouth and tongue. Larkin, who quit smoking in 1988 after doctors diagnosed her with a benign tumor on her tongue, allegedly suffered from oral dysplasia, or a proliferation of abnormal cells caused by her smoking. Her husband, Paul, is suing Reynolds, claiming a tobacco industry-wide conspiracy to hide smoking's dangers caused his wife's cancer.
During opening statements Thursday, Larkin’s lawyers told jurors that Larkin's wife was manipulated by tobacco industry messaging obscuring the dangers of smoking and was not aware of the health risks until it was too late to avoid her cancer. “Reynolds will claim that (Carole Larkin) knew all of the truth about the health risks of cigarette smoking and the addictive nature of it,” Larkin’s attorney, Gerson & Schwartz’s Philip Gerson said. “There will be no evidence of that that they can point to. In fact, the proof will be that Carole Larkin never heard of cancer of the floor of her mouth, cancer on her tongue, until her doctor told her she had it.”
However, the defense argued that Carole Larkin was never influenced by tobacco industry marketing and was on notice of smoking’s hazards based on U.S. Surgeon General advisories and years of warnings on the packs of the cigarettes she smoked. “You won’t hear from Mr. Larkin… or anyone else that knew Carole Larkin that she ever said that she was somehow confused or misled about the risks of smoking,” Jones Day’s Jose Isasi said. “There will be no evidence, in response to these (warnings on cigarettes), that Mrs. Larkin ever expressed surprise that cigarettes were harmful to her health, or questioned if messages from organizations like the American Cancer Society or the Surgeon General were correct.”
Next week: Plaintiff's attorneys are expected to move into the heart of their case in chief.
As trial began Tuesday in a widower’s Engle progeny suit against tobacco giants R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris, attorneys debated the role nicotine addiction played in a host of diseases a Florida mother of eight suffered before her death.
Glodine McCoy, who began smoking at 13, died at 70 in 1997 after smoking for 50 years. Her husband, John, claims the tobacco giants’ concealment of cigarettes’ health hazards caused his wife’s nicotine addiction and a variety of diseases, including lung cancer, artery disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
During opening statements, John McCoy’s attorney, Scott Schlesinger, told jurors that Glodine McCoy’s nicotine addiction was so powerful that she continued smoking even when her family, which included eight of the couple's children, went without food. “One of (McCoy’s) sons explained, ‘There were some times we didn’t have any food. We couldn’t afford food, but (McCoy) bought her cigarettes,’” Schlesinger told jurors, before claiming that cigarette manufacturers knew their product could cause such a reaction. “There’s an internal (tobacco industry) document that says the addiction is so powerful that in times of scarcity, cigarettes will supplant food (as a) necessity (for) people,” Schlesinger said. “So there’s actually a document recognizing, and describing, and predicting, exactly the intensity of Glo’s addiction.”
However, Jeffrey Furr, representing Reynolds, argued that Glodine McCoy smoked by choice, not because of addiction, and that she quit smoking “cold turkey” with no medical assistance after suffering a heart attack. “She had the ability to quit any time she really wanted to,” Furr said.
Furr also contended the diseases that affected Glodine McCoy’s health were time barred. Noting McCoy’s diseases must be proven to have “manifested” between May 5, 1990 and November 21, 1996 to be considered compensable under Florida’s statute of limitations, Furr argued medical records and family testimony would establish McCoy’s artery disease, COPD, and cancer developed either before or after that time period.
Next Week: Plaintiffs' attorneys are expected to complete the bulk of their case in chief.
Arlin Crisco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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