Opening Statements in Hargroves v. RJR Tobacco Trial

Posted by msch on May 6, 2011 12:55:00 PM

Howard Acosta Stephanie Parker in Hargroves v RJRHargroves v. R.J. Reynolds (Tampa, Florida).

According to plaintiff attorney Howard Acosta, Debra Hargroves was born in 1954, and began to smoke at age 9, in 3rd or 4th grade. She developed lung cancer at age 49, and died from it a year later, in June 2005.

Ms. Hargroves had tried to stop smoking numerous times, said Mr. Acosta, including spending $800 on electroshock therapy -- "expensive and painful" -- but she could not stop.

Mr. Acosta told the jury that 443,000 people in the United States die every year as a result of cigarettes. The risk of death from smoking is 28 times higher than the risk from alcohol-related disease, and more than 1,000 times higher than from all other forms of air pollution combined. "Millions of deaths were avoidable," said Mr. Acosta, "but for the reprehensible conduct of the cigarette companies."

Representing R.J. Reynolds, Jones Day's Stephanie Parker told the jury, "You're going to hear at trial that Ms. Hargroves herself took full responsibility, during her lifetime, for the health risk of smoking. And you're going to hear that Ms. Hargroves, herself, during her lifetime, took full responsibility for the consequences of her smoking. But yet her husband is coming to court now, asking for money damages. And when you listen to the evidence, you're going to have to ask yourself if there's any corroborating evidence for what they say now that they're in court re-writing history because they're trying to get money damages. That's what this case is about...This lawsuit is about whether her husband can now come to court and ask for money damages from you when his wife, herself, said that she wanted to smoke, she didn't want to quit, and she took full responsibility for her decisions."

Moreover, said Ms. Parker, "Cigarettes are not defective, and there is no such thing as a safe cigarette. Cigarettes can cause lung cancer. It says that right on the packages...Just because a product is dangerous does not mean it's defective...The defect has to be more than just that it's addictive or dangerous, because our society already knows that. That's not enough...We're going to introduce evidence so that you can see that the Reynolds cigarettes that Ms. Hargroves smoked were the best designed cigarettes available in the world...and...the health risks of smoking were common knowledge...[which is] the test of whether or not a product is defective. If there's common knowledge of the dangers, it's not defective."

CVN is webcasting Hargroves v. R.J. Reynolds live.

Topics: Toxic Torts, Products Liability, Engle Progeny, Tobacco Litigation, Hargroves v. RJR