Orlando, FL—A Florida smoker who grew up in Kentucky's tobacco country was among generations of children targeted by the tobacco industry, leading to a decades-long nicotine addiction that ended in his cancer death, an attorney for the smoker’s family said as trial opened against R.J. Reynolds Monday. Hochreiter v. R. J. Reynolds, 2015CA003926.
“They were going after the young kids, because that’s how you would get them addicted and be a life-long customer just like Mr. [Terry] Carrico,” Morgan & Morgan’s Keith Mitnik told jurors when describing tobacco marketing Mitnik says swept up Carrico, who allegedly started chain-smoking at 14. “[He] smoked like that—mass daily consumption—all those years, and you’re going to hear, even after he got diagnosed with lung cancer [he] kept smoking. He was deeply addicted [and] started young, with the hardwiring of the brain.”
Carrico, 49, died from lung cancer in 1996, after more than 30 years of smoking 2-3 packs of cigarettes a day. His family claims R.J. Reynolds, makers of the Winston cigarettes Carrico preferred, caused his death through an industry-wide conspiracy to hide the dangers of smoking.
In Monday’s openings, Mitnik told jurors Carrico was indoctrinated into the culture of smoking while growing up in Owensboro, Kentucky and was duped by schemes to cast doubt on the dangers of cigarettes. “He grew up around tobacco farmers in Kentucky, and he didn’t believe that [smoking] really caused lung cancer, that those folks that sell it, or the government, would permit it,” Mitnik said, adding Reynolds and other tobacco companies took advantage of the psychological side effects addiction had on smokers. “You’re going to hear about addiction bias, where people are addicted and they want to believe it’s OK to smoke and that the conspiracy specifically targeted that bias.”
The case stems 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 lung cancer.
But, in openings Monday, Jones Day’s Mark Belasic, representing Reynolds, told jurors Carrico knew from the time he was a teenager that smoking was dangerous. Belasic said Carrico would refer to cigarettes as “cancer sticks” when he was as young as 14 and heard warnings from doctors and others about smoking’s dangers. “The evidence is he knew,” Belasic said. “The evidence is that he wasn’t tricked, the evidence is the warnings got to him.”
Belasic also questioned Carrico’s desire to quit smoking, arguing evidence would show Carrico never tried to quit for more than a few hours at a time, and witness testimony on his quit attempts would be scant. “Is there anyone, anyone in this case, other than Kay Carrico, Mr. Carrico’s wife, is there anyone that reports that Mr. Carrico made any serious effort to quit smoking?” Belasic asked.
Trial is expected to last into next week.
Email Arlin Crisco at [email protected].
Stephanie Hochreiter is represented by Morgan & Morgan's Keith Mitnik.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by Jones Day's Mark Belasic.
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