St. Petersburg, FL—Trial began this week against the country's two largest cigarettes manufacturers over their role in the cancer death of a Florida woman who smoked more than 2 packs of cigarettes a day throughout much of her life, despite losing her father to smoking-related lung cancer. Brown v. Philip Morris, et al., 15-002451-CI.
Maria Joyce Brown began smoking as a teenager and was already smoking up to 2-and-a-half packs a day by the time she graduated from high school, said the Ruth Law Team's Eric Roslansky, who is representing Brown's family in their claim that tobacco companies Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds hid the dangers of cigarettes while targeting teens like Brown with a product the companies knew was addictive. Cigarette companies recognized they could not survive if they didn’t attract new, replacement smokers, and they fought over this young segment of the market, Roslansky said.
Brown died of lung cancer in July 1995.
"You’re going to be comparing the choices that my client made as a teenager and as an addicted smoker, and you’re going to be comparing those choices with the knowing, conscious choices that these defendants made to conceal and keep information from smokers like my client," Roslansky said in his opening statement to jurors. "The evidence is going to show that these defendants made conscious decisions, that they chose to lie, that they chose to conceal."
But Brown made her own informed choices, said R.J. Reynolds attorney Emily Baker of Jones Day. "The health risks were not a secret to Joyce Brown. The health risks were not hidden from her," she told jurors in her opening.
Brown came from a strict Catholic family, many of whom warned her from a very early age against the dangers of smoking, said Shook Hardy's William Geraghty, representing Philip Morris. Her family often referred to cigarettes as "coffin nails" and "cancer sticks." Brown eloped with her first husband in 1967, and both regularly smoked. Two of Brown's uncles died of lung cancer in the mid-70s, and her father died of lung cancer in 1992, Geraghty said.
It wasn't until Brown married her second husband, John Brown, who was not a smoker, that she ever made any attempt at quitting. In 1986, she became pregnant with their son and chose to quit then.
"She had no real interest in quitting for many years," Geraghty said. "And when she decided to quit smoking, she quit, and she quit without assistance."
But Roslansky said she never really stopped smoking. He told jurors her husband would return from work at the end of the day, and his wife would smell of smoke. “She was a closet smoker," he said. "Once an addict, always an addict."
Brown's case is one of thousands of Engle progeny cases in Florida, which stem from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision decertifying Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a class-action tobacco suit originally filed in 1994. Although the state’s supreme court ruled so-called Engle-progeny cases must be tried individually, it found plaintiffs could rely on certain jury findings in the original case, including the determination that tobacco companies had placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and had conspired to hide the dangers of smoking. However, individual Engle-progeny plaintiffs must prove a variety of elements to establish class membership, including nicotine addiction and a causal link between that addiction and specific health problems such as lung cancer.
Trial is expected to last through the week.
John Brown is represented by Eric Roslansky of The Ruth Law Team and Brent Bigger of Knopf Bigger.
Philip Morris is represented by Shook Hardy’s William Geraghty and Jennifer Voss.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by Emily Baker of Jones Day.