In their last day presenting evidence, opposing counsel sparred over whether Paul Baum, the deceased smoker at the heart of an Engle progeny tobacco suit, died from smoking-related respiratory disease or a rare cartilage disorder unrelated to his smoking. Baum v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
Dr. Timothy Cole, a diagnostic radiologist and witness for the defense, walked jurors through Baum's CT scans, detailing what he considered were tell-tale signs of relapsing polychondritis, a cartilage disorder that Cole believes affected Baum’s trachea and restricted his breathing. Cole told jurors that thickening of portions of Baum’s trachea, combined with tracheomalacia, or flaccidity in the tracheal wall, were hallmarks of relapsing polychondritis.
“This is the only thing that you’re going to see increased thickness of the (cartilage of the tracheal wall) and tracheomalacia,” Cole said.
Baum, a smoker for 50 years, died in 2012, of what had been diagnosed nearly 20 years earlier as chronic pulmonary obstructive disease. Paul Baum’s widow Rachel is suing R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Philip Morris Tobacco Co, and the Liggett Group, claiming Baum’s smoking addiction caused the COPD that ultimately killed him. However, the tobacco manufacturers argue that Baum’s respiratory problems were misdiagnosed as COPD. Instead, they contend Baum suffered from relapsing polychondritis, which inflames cartilage in those it affects and which is unrelated to smoking.
On cross-examination today, Rachel Baum’s attorney Amanda Kessler questioned Cole about the rarity of relapsing polychondritis. Cole acknowledged that the disease affects only about 3 out of every million people, and that conversely, COPD, a more common disease tied with smoking, often causes tracheomalacia.
Cole also testified that none of Baum’s 29 CT scans mentioned relapsing polychondritis and none of Baum’s physicians diagnosed Baum with the disease. “But I had an advantage over the other doctors because I got to see every one of his CTs,” Cole said.
Baum's diagnosis of COPD is a key to plaintiff's membership in the Engle class, making the issue critical to the case.
Kessler closed the day by calling Dr. Steven Karidas, a Miami radiologist who rebutted Cole’s diagnosis of relapsing polychondritis. Karidas told jurors that the disease, though rare, was generally easy to diagnose. Karidas also testified that Baum’s CT scans showed thickening of both the cartilage and membrane of Baum's trachea, which he said would rule out relapsing polychondritis.
Both sides are expected to make closing arguments tomorrow.