Pensacola, FL—Attorneys last week debated what role, if any, nicotine addiction and tobacco marketing played in a Florida man’s death from complications related to heart disease, as trial began against Philip Morris. Bryant v. Philip Morris, 2015CA001691.
Johnny Bryant “did not like to smoke. He did not want to smoke. And he tried to quit over 50-plus years,” Richard Diaz told jurors last week, when describing Bryant, who died at 70 in 1999 following complications from surgery for coronary artery disease, or CAD.
Bryant’s wife, Veda, claims that tobacco industry deception hooked her husband to cigarettes as a child and his 50-plus years of smoking led to his CAD and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
During openings last Wednesday, Diaz, of The Law Offices of Richard J. Diaz, told jurors Bryant was duped by a scheme to hide the dangers of smoking and fraudulent marketing meant to convince smokers that “light” and “low tar” cigarettes were safe alternatives to regular brands. “He switched just like millions of other smokers at the time, who believed what they said about their cigarettes.”
The Bryant case stems from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a Florida state court class action suit 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 COPD or CAD.
But the defense contends Bryant bears responsibility for his smoking because he was warned about the dangers of cigarettes yet never wanted to quit until just a few years before his death. During last Wednesday’s openings, Boies, Schiller’s Andrew Brenner told jurors Bryant, who did not start smoking Philip Morris cigarettes until the late 1960s, shrugged off admonitions to stop smoking through much of his life and did not try to quit until the 1990s. “A person who does not truly want to quit, and does not make an effort to quit, wont quit,” Brenner said.
Brenner also told jurors there was nothing to definitively prove Bryant relied on tobacco industry messaging when making his smoking decisions. Brenner contended plaintiff’s case on reliance would rest largely on Robert Proctor, an expert who frequently testifies on tobacco industry messagng generally but is not familiar with the specifics of Bryant’s case. “He tells the same story over, and, over, and over. Maybe parts of that story are relevant to other folks,” Brenner said. “But, you’ll see they don’t match up to Johnny Bryant’s story.”
Trial is expected to last into next week.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Veda Bryant is represented by Richard Diaz, of The Law Offices of Richard J. Diaz.
Philip Morris is represented by Boies, Schiller & Flexner’s Andrew Brenner and Shook, Hardy & Bacon’s William Geraghty.
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