Attorneys Argue What Fueled Florida Police Officer's Smoking, as Wrongful Death Trial Opens Against RJR

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Feb 7, 2020 6:49:24 PM


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Fort Lauderdale, FL— Jurors this week heard evidence on what drove a long-time police officer to smoke for nearly half a century, as trial opened against R.J.Reynolds over his death. Snyder v. R.J. Reynolds, 2008-CV-019467. 

James McHugh smoked for more than four decades and throughout a career in police departments in Pennsylvania and Florida. His family contends Reynolds caused his 2009 death from respiratory disease by undercutting evidence of smoking’s risks while hooking him to nicotine. 

During Tuesday’s openings, Rosen Injury Law's Eric Rosen, representing McHugh’s family, previewed evidence he said would show Reynolds participated in a decades-long scheme to cast doubt on medical evidence surrounding the dangers of smoking, all while engineering their cigarettes to be as addictive as possible. 

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Rosen said McHugh was so hooked on nicotine that he failed in several attempts to quit smoking across the decades. “In his medical records, it talks about how [he says] ‘I’m trying to quit.’ But he’s failing,” Rosen said, noting that McHugh successfully quit with a prescription aid only a few years before his death. “And there’s a reason why. It’s the way [the cigarette] is designed.”

The case is among thousands that stem from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a 1994 Florida state court class-action lawsuit against Philip Morris and other tobacco companies. The state's supreme court ultimately decertified the class, but ruled the cases, may be tried individually. Plaintiffs in the so-called Engle progeny cases 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 illness.

But Reynolds claims McHugh controlled his smoking and continued to smoke despite knowing its dangers. During Tuesday’s openings, King & Spalding’s Jeffrey Furr told jurors that McHugh’s wife saw McHugh smoke only a handful of times over more than 45 years of marriage. “That’s an extraordinary amount of control over his smoking,” Furr said, noting that McHugh, who smoked primarily at work, successfully quit cigarettes once he retired. 

Furr added that McHugh’s wife didn’t always believe he was making a concerted effort in his purported attempts to stop smoking across the years. “As you listen to the evidence about these quit attempts, you need to ask yourself, was it a sincere, serious, quit attempt that he was really making?” Furr asked. “Or was it just… something done to placate his wife?”

Trial is expected to last through next week. 

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Topics: tobacco, Engle Progeny, Florida, Snyder v. R.J. Reynolds