West Palm Beach, FL— Attorneys Thursday argued over who bears responsibility for a Florida man’s lung cancer death after decades of smoking, as trial opened against R.J. Reynolds. Richter v. R.J. Reynolds, 2008-CA-038650. Edward Richter started smoking as a teenager in the early 1950s, and continued smoking up to two packs of cigarettes a day for almost 40 years. He ultimately died of lung cancer in 1996, about four years after he quit smoking. His family contends Reynolds hid the dangers and addictiveness of smoking for decades, hooking Richter to cigarettes and causing his cancer.
During Thursday’s opening statements, the Richter family’s attorney, William Wichmann, of The Law Offices of William J. Wichmann, P.A., previewed evidence he said showed Reynolds designed cigarettes to be addictive, while falsely marketing filtered cigarettes, such as the Winston and Salem brands Richter favored, as being safer than unfiltered alternatives. “Reynolds, in order to market and produce this highly engineered, defective product, spent billions of dollars on advertising,” Wichmann said. “Millions of Americans like Mr. Richter died from smoking Reynolds’s Winston and Salem cigarettes.”
The lawsuit is among thousands of claims that stem from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a 1994 Florida state court class-action case against the nation’s tobacco companies. The state's supreme court ultimately decertified the class, but ruled that so-called 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 conspired to hide the dangers of smoking. However, in order to be entitled to those findings, plaintiffs must prove the smokers at the heart of their cases suffered from nicotine addiction that caused a smoking-related disease.
But Reynolds contends that Richter knew the dangers of smoking and wasn’t interested in quitting in time to avoid his cancer. On Thursday, King & Spalding’s Jason Keehfus told jurors Richter’s wife, a nurse, had warned him for years about the dangers of smoking, while Richter’s father died from smoking-related emphysema. “Mr. Richter was repeatedly warned about the dangers of smoking and encouraged to quit,” Keehfus said. “He knew those dangers, and he continued to smoke. He chose not to quit.”
Trial in the case is expected to run through next week.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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