Defense Wins Syzmanski Engle Tobacco Trial

Posted by msch on Oct 25, 2011 12:11:00 PM

Keith Mitnik Walter Cofer Dal Burton Nancy KaschelSyzmanski v. R.J. Reynolds (Fort Myers, Florida)

Jack Szymanski had his voice box removed in 1993 as a result of laryngeal cancer.

Keith Mitnik (Morgan & Morgan) descrdibed for the jury the time in which Mr. Szymanski started smoking cigarettes. "When this story started, in the 1950's...almost half the adult population smoked. Two-thirds of doctors were smoking. That's the environment when this eleven-year-old boy picked his first cigarette up. Fourteen-year-old boy was over a pack a day, getting into deep addiction as a young teenage boy. We didn't have cell phones. There were three TV stations -- they went off at eleven o'clock! There were no warnings on cigarettes at that time. It's not to suggest that there wasn't word out there that cigarettes could be bad for you, that they could cut your wind, that they could cause you to cough, that they may not be good for you. But it's a totally different scenario than the certainty with which we have today that they're gonna cause cancer." The delay in people's realization of the magnitude of the risk, said Mr. Mitnik, was a direct result of what the cigarette companies intentionally agreed to do.

Walter Cofer (Shook Hardy Bacon) for Philip Morris told the jury that Mr. Syzmanski actually had cancer in four different parts of his body -- larynx, neck, colon, and tongue. Acording to Mr. Cofer, Mr. Syzmanski had other risk factors for laryngeal cancer, such as alcohol use.  Moreover, said Mr. Cofer, Mr. Syzmanski didn't smoke because of cigarette ads; instead, he smoked because his friends and family smoked. "It wasn't just tolerated, it was encouraged. He got his first cigarette from his mother...He tried a bunch of different brands, and he smoked the ones that tasted good."

The evidence, said Mr. Cofer, suggested that Mr. Syzmanski quit earlier than he said, and drank more than he said. "Why does it matter whether he quit in '93 or he quit earlier? Well, because Mr. Syzmanski now claims that he was just so addicted to nicotine that he couldn't help himself. He claims that he was compelled to smoke until he was diagnosed with the cancer that ultimately cost him his voice box. He said it wasn't until he had the cancer that he had the strength to quit. So members of the jury, if he quit earlier -- if he quit up to seven years earlier -- then the obvious question is, why didn't he even quit before that?

Representing R.J. Reynolds, Dal Burton (Womble Carlyle) said,"The undisputed testimony is that Mr. Syzmanski didn't like our cigarettes. He didn't like the way they tasted. It's undisputed that he smoked for taste, and he did not like our cigarettes...He smoked them for a very, very short period of time...He quit smokiing Reynolds brands more than 30 years before he developed laryngeal cancer."

For Liggett, Nancy Kaschel (Kasowitz Benson) told the jury that Liggett was a much smaller company than the other defendants, and that Liggett had declined to attend the Plaza Hotel meeting, and declined to sign the "Frank Statement," and should not be lumped in with the behaviors that the plaintiff assigned to "the tobacco companies."

In his closing argument, Mr. Mitnik told the jury that all three defendants should be held liable in part for Mr. Syzmanski's laryngeal cancer. "They all belong here. They're all a part of the conspiracy. He smoked products from everyone of them. He started out and got initiated on [Liggett's] Chesterfield during those critical formative years when he was vulnerable as a young boy smoking Chesterfields, and he also smoked" Lucky Strikes and Camels, "which were R.J. Reynolds. Those were the initiation brands that got this thing hooked into him so deep at such a young age...About the time he felt a lump in his throat he went right over to the Lights, that's Philip Morris, Marlborough Lights. So they're all here for a reason..No question, certainly more persuasive, that that contributed in a meaningful way to the outcome here."

The jury found that addiction to cigarettes containing nicotine was not a legal cause of Mr. Syzmanski's laryngeal cancer.

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