Miami, FL—Attorneys debated what caused the massive stroke a Florida man suffered after decades of smoking, as trial opened Tuesday against Philip Morris. Olsen v. Philip Morris, 2007-CA-047124.
Harry Olsen began smoking as a teenager, and continued for decades before he suffered a major stroke in 2003. Olsen later died for reasons unrelated to smoking. However, his wife, Rosemary, contends Philip Morris, maker of the Marlboros Olsen favored for more than a quarter-century, is responsible for the vascular disease she claims caused the stroke.
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
The cause of Olsen’s stroke is a key battle line in the case. On Tuesday, The Alvarez Law Firm’s Michael Alvarez told jurors smoking was the leading cause of vascular disease. And he said expert testimony would link Olsen’s years of smoking to his stroke. “You cannot take the 33 years that this man smoked before he got sick, away. You can’t,” Alvarez said. “You cannot take the 33 years away of damaging your arteries [through smoking].”
However, the defense argues there is no definitive proof of what caused Olsen’s stroke.
During Tuesday’s openings, Shook Hardy & Bacon’s Frank Kelly said Olsen carried a variety of other risk factors for vascular disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a family history of the disease. And he noted medical documents that could have provided better information on the cause of Olsen’s stroke could not be found. “The information just isn’t there,” to directly connect smoking to Olsen’s stroke, Kelly said. “You can’t say [the cause].”
Trial is expected to last through next week.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rosemary Olsen is represented by The Alvarez Law Firm’s Alex Alvarez and Michael Alvarez.
Philip Morris is represented by Shook Hardy & Bacon’s Frank Kelly.
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