Fort Lauderdale, FL— After a week-long break in proceedings, closings are expected early next week at trial against the country's two largest cigarette makers for the respiratory disease and cancer a Florida woman says she developed after years of smoking. Zingaro v. Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, 2007-CV-036438.
Karla Zingaro, now 64, had her first cigarette at about 15, and smoked between one and two packs a day for the next roughly 40 years. She developed respiratory disease in the early 1990s, and in 2014 was diagnosed with cancer, which she says returned last year after treatment.
She contends a scheme by R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris to hide the dangers of smoking hooked her to cigarettes and caused her respiratory disease and lung cancer.
During openings earlier this month, Kelley/Uustal’s Todd Falzone told jurors Zingaro was duped by decades of tobacco industry fraud. He noted that Zingaro switched to light cigarettes amid false claims they were safer than their traditional counterparts. “She relied on this conspiracy that they had launched, relative to all of these things, including lights being better for you,” Falzone said. But, he added, “It’s not better, at all.”
Meanwhile the defense contends Zingaro knew of the dangers of cigarettes but refused to stop in time to avoid their impact. In his opening statement, Shook Hardy Bacon's Kenneth Reilly, representing Philip Morris, told jurors Zingaro’s mother had been diagnosed with smoking-related respiratory disease years before Zingaro herself developed the illness. “Mrs. Zingaro’s right there, and a doctor is telling her, ‘You’re going to get it, too. You’re smoking, too. You’re going to get it too. You need to stop right now,’” Reilly said.
Meanwhile, Reynolds contends Zingaro smoked the company’s cigarettes for a few years and had quit its brands by 1972, long before she developed respiratory disease or cancer. “Mrs. Zingaro didn’t smoke very much of my client’s product at all,” King & Spalding’s Jason Keehfus told jurors in his opening. “And, to the extent she did, it was 50 years ago, in a very minimal way.”
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The case is one of thousands that stem from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a 1994 Florida state court class-action lawsuit against the nation’s tobacco companies. The state's supreme court later decertified the class, but ruled Engle progeny cases may be tried individually. Plaintiffs are entitled to the benefit of the jury's findings in the original verdict, including the determination that tobacco companies placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and hid the dangers of smoking.
To be entitled to those findings, however, each plaintiff must prove the smoker at the heart of their case suffered from nicotine addiction that was the legal cause of a smoking-related disease.
Trial in the Zingaro case began April 3, and has featured seven days of testimony from psychologist and tobacco cessation expert Kenneth Cummings and pulmonologist and tobacco researcher Dr. David Burns, related to plaintiff's claims that nicotine addiction and tobacco marketing ultimately caused Zingaro’s illness.
Closings in the case are expected Tuesday.
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
Karla Zingaro is represented by Kelley/Uustal’s Todd Falzone and Eric Rosen.
Philip Morris is represented by Shook Hardy Bacon’s Kenneth Reilly.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by King & Spalding’s Jason Keehfus.
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