Miami, FL— Attorneys Friday argued over who bore fault for the lung cancer that killed a 55-year-old Florida smoker, as trial opened against Philip Morris. Lipp v. Philip Morris, 2017-CA-018509.
Norma Lipp died in 1993 of lung cancer, after more than four decades of smoking, including about a decade smoking Philip Morris’s Virginia Slims. Lipp’s family contends the company’s cigarettes, and its role in a conspiracy to hide the dangers of smoking, caused Lipp’s fatal cancer.
During Friday’s openings, the Lipp family’s attorney, The Alvarez Law Firm’s Alex Alvarez, walked jurors through tobacco industry documents he said showed Philip Morris and others worked to undercut scientific evidence on smoking’s health effects. Meanwhile, Michael Alvarez told jurors Lipp was so addicted to cigarettes that she was unable to quit smoking even after cancer forced doctors to remove one of her lungs.
“You’re going to hear from her family on how hard it was for her to stop smoking,” Michael Alvarez told jurors Friday. “While she was trying to quit, you’re going to see [tobacco industry] internal documents that say it’s fortunate for us that cigarettes are a habit [smokers] can’t break.”
The case is among thousands that stem from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a 1994 Florida state court class-action lawsuit against 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.
Philip Morris argues Lipp knew the dangers of smoking but was not interested in quitting in time to avoid her cancer. During Friday’s openings, Beck Redden’s Kathleen Gallagher told jurors Lipp smoked Philip Morris cigarettes for only a fraction of her smoking history, and she contrasted that history with decades of medical warnings about smoking. Gallagher added that Lipp could have avoided her cancer by heeding those warnings from the 1960s and 70s.
“Had Ms. Lipp quit smoking years and years and years ago [before her cancer], we likely would not be here,” Gallagher said, “because she likely would not have had lung cancer from smoking cigarettes.”
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