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Suit Over Chain-Smoking Corrections Officer's COPD Time Barred, R.J. Reynolds Argues

Posted by Meghan Gourley on Sep 16, 2016 4:56:50 PM

Daytona Beach, FL—A widow's suit over the respiratory disease and death of her husband, a 2-pack-a-day smoker for nearly half a century, is time barred, lawyers for R.J. Reynolds claimed Thursday as trial opened against the tobacco giant. Smith v. R.J. Reynolds, 2015 30548 CICI. 

Julius Smith, a long-time corrections officer, was already smoking a pack of cigarettes a day by the time he was 15, eventually becoming a chain smoker of Reynolds-brand Camel and Winston cigarettes, said William Wichmann, who represents Smith's widow, Sherry. She claims Reynolds' decades-long concealment of smoking's dangers caused her husband's nicotine addiction, COPD, and ultimately a fatal heart attack in 2015. 

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Smith's suit is among thousands of cases stemming from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a 1994 class action by Florida's smokers against the nation's tobacco companies. Jurors in the original class action found companies, including Reynolds, hid smoking's hazards for much of the 20th century. Although the Florida Supreme Court ultimately decertified the class on appeal in 2006, individual, so-called Engle progeny plaintiffs can rely on the jury's findings in the original class action if they prove a link between nicotine addiction and a smoking-related disease.

However, the disease at the heart of each case must have "manifested" itself before November 21, 1996 for inclusion in the Engle class. During Thursday's openings, Jones Day's Emily Baker, representing Reynolds, told jurors Smith's COPD did not manifest itself until 1997, barring the claim. 

Baker also contended Smith chose to smoke despite knowing the dangers of cigarettes. "Mr. Smith made his own lifestyle choices. He was resourceful. He was intelligent. He was hardworking," Baker said. And he wasn’t waiting for a tobacco company to tell him something he already knew." 

But Sherry Smith's attorneys countered that evidence shows her husband's COPD began years before the Engle bar date, and Julius lacked the knowledge of smoking's hazards until after he was addicted."One of the issues you’re going to have to decide in this case is who knew the most: Reynolds—about addiction or disease—or Julius Smith?" Wichmann, of The Law Offices of William J. Wichmann, said. 

Smith tried to quit smoking several times from the 1960s onward, using hypnosis, nicotine gum, nicotine spray, and trying to go cold turkey, his attorneys contended, but his addiction was so strong he continued smoking even after his COPD diagnosis. He successfully quit, plaintiff's attorneys said, only after he was hospitalized with prostate cancer in 2002, though Wichmann said he continued to have cravings up until his death. 

Trial in the case is expected to last through next week. 

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Topics: Products Liability, tobacco, Engle Progeny, Florida, Smith v. R.J. Reynolds