Defense Victory in Ojeda Engle Tobacco Trial

Posted by msch on Sep 16, 2011 7:43:00 PM

Ojeda v RJR Engle Tobacco TrialOjeda v. R.J. Reynolds (Miami, Florida)

Juan Ojeda was born in Cuba in 1930. He came to the US in February, 1969. Ojeda was a two-pack-a-day Camels smoker. His son Reinaldo, who was the plaintiff in the case, was born in 1971, and remembered seeing his father smoking in 1977. In 1991, Juan Ojeda developed breathing problems and was diagnosed with emphysema (COPD). In 1996, Juan was diagnosed wtih lung cancer, and died a few months later.

"People don't get addicted to the gum or the patch," plaintiff attorney Howard Acosta told the jury in his opening statement. "Because what makes a cigarette so addictive is that when you breathe the nicotine in it gets up to the brain in just a few seconds...crack cocaine freebases the drug, and that's what the cigarette does. The cigarette freebases some of the nicotine, and by freebasing it it goes to the brain even faster...Tobacco companies know exactly how to control it, and they researched it..."

For R. J. Reynolds, Ray Persons (King & Spalding) told the jury that addiction to cigarettes was not the legal cause of Mr. Ojeda's death.  First, Reynolds was not to blame for the addictive nature of the product.  Reynolds did nothing to make cigarettes more addictive or dangerous than natural tobacco, and Camel cigarettes were no more dangerous than any other cigarette.

Also, said Mr. Persons, Mr. Ojeda smoked for pleasure, not due to addiction.  1977 was the first time any witness said that Mr. Ojeda smoked, and by that time warnings were on every pack. Moreover, the evidence showed that Mr. Ojeda was able to control his smoking, and therefore was able to quit, because Mr. Ojeda either did quit the first time he tried, or he was able to hide his smoking from family members. Addiction was not the legal cause of Mr. Ojeda's death, Mr. Person's concluded. Instead, smoking for pleasure was a choice that Mr. Ojeda made, albeit not without consequences.

Defense attorney Ursula Henninger (King & Spalding) told the jury that Mr. Ojeda's death did not result from smoking. Instead, he had primary colon cancer that had spread to his lungs, liver, and brain.

The jury found that an addiction to cigarettes was a legal cause of Mr. Ojeda's COPD or lung cancer, but that smoking Camel cigarettes made by RJR was not a legal cause of his death.

King & Spalding's other Engle tobacco cases include Huish v. RJR and Mack v. RJR.

Ojeda was Mr. Acosta's sixth Engle trial (C.Campbell, Douglas, Gelep, Hargroves, Kalyvas). Mr. Acosta recovered a $5M compensatory damage award in Douglas. Mr. Acosta typically does not assert a punitive damages claim in his Engle cases.

CVN webcast Ojeda v. Philip Morris live.

Topics: Toxic Torts, Products Liability, Engle Progeny, Tobacco Litigation