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Attorneys Face Off Over Conspiracy's Role in Smoker's Death, as Trial Starts Against Tobacco Giants

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Mar 8, 2019 1:04:58 PM

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Fort Lauderdale, FL—Attorneys Thursday debated the role tobacco marketing and nicotine addiction played in the death of a 71-year-old woman who smoked for more than half a century, as trial opened against the country’s two largest cigarette makers. Neff v. R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris, 2007-CV-036745.

Dorothy Milinkovich began smoking as a young teenager, and allegedly continued smoking up to three packs or more a day until shortly before her death from metastatic cancer in 1994. Milinkovich’s daughter, Deborah Neff, contends R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris’ participation in a scheme to hide the dangers of cigarettes throughout her moth’s life hooked her to nicotine and ultimately caused her fatal lung cancer.

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During openings on Thursday, Neff’s attorney, the Schlesinger Law Offices P.A.’s Scott Schlesinger, highlighted documents he said showed the two companies participated in a sweeping, five-decade-long scheme to undermine scientific evidence of smoking’s risks.  

As part of that conspiracy, Schlesinger told jurors the companies also falsely marketed filtered and light cigarettes as being safer alternatives to traditional, unfiltered brands. “In part, they used those filters to make folks think, if there is anything [dangerous in cigarettes], this will help you. And [Milinkovich] relied on that, as millions did,” Schlesinger said. “She was entitled to be told the truth by the tobacco companies.”

Schlesinger told jurors Milinkovich tried to quit smoking several times with limited success. “She [was] as addicted and dependent on nicotine as imaginable,” he said.

The case is one of thousands stemming from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision decertifying Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a class-action tobacco suit originally filed in 1994. Although the state’s supreme court ruled that Engle-progeny cases must be tried individually, it found plaintiffs could rely on certain jury findings in the original case, including the determination that tobacco companies had placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and had conspired to hide the dangers of smoking through much of the 20th century.

In order to be entitled to those findings, however, each Engle progeny plaintiff must prove the smoker at the heart of their case suffered from nicotine addiction that legally caused a smoking-related disease.

The defense in Neff argues Milinkovich smoked for enjoyment and did not seriously want to quit in time to avoid any impact it had on her health.

During Thursday’s openings, Reynolds’ attorney, King & Spalding’s Ray Persons, told jurors Milinkovich would often reject calls from her family members to try to quit cigarettes. And he pointed to testimony from family who said they believed Milinkovich tried to stop smoking only to appease their requests. “That’s not getting serious about [quitting] smoking,” Persons said.

Boies Schiller Flexner’s Andrew Brenner, representing Philip Morris, told jurors Milinkovich never smoked a Philip Morris cigarette. And he argued there was no evidence Milinkovich was ever swayed by tobacco marketing. “Ms. Milinkovich never read or heard a statement made in furtherance of the [tobacco industry] conspiracy,” Brenner said. “And if she did not, the conspiracy claim, the only claim against Philip Morris, will fail.”

Trial is expected to last through next week.

Email Arlin Crisco at acrisco@cvn.com.

Related Information

Deborah Neff is represented by Schlesinger Law Offices P.A.’s Scott Schlesinger

R.J. Reynolds is represented by King & Spalding’s Ray Persons.

Philip Morris is represented by Boies Schiller Flexner’s Andrew Brenner.

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Topics: Neff v. R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris, Engle Progeny, Florida, tobacco