Attorneys Spar Over Cause of Contractor's Deadly Cancer, as Trial Against Philip Morris Begins

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Jun 7, 2017 9:26:55 PM


Hildy Sastre delivers her opening statement on behalf of Philip Morris, accused of responsibility for the lung cancer death of David Freeman. 

Gainesville, FL--Attorneys Tuesday battled over what led a building contractor to smoke up to three packs of cigarettes a day for more than 30 years and what ultimately caused the lung cancer that killed him, as trial began in his widow’s suit against Philip Morris. Freeman v. Philip Morris, 2015CA003930.

“[David Freeman] did everything that Philip Morris wanted him to do when it came to smoking their cigarettes. They weren’t telling people that they should stop. They weren’t helping people to stop, and in fact it was the exact opposite,” Dolan, Dobrinsky & Rosenblum’s Randy Rosenblum told jurors Tuesday. “They were actually lying about whether it was harmful and whether it was addictive.”

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Freeman, 54, died in 1995 of lung cancer that metastasized to his brain. His wife, Jo Freeman, claims his cancer was caused by her husband’s decades-long addiction to cigarettes and Philip Morris' participation in a scheme to hide the dangers of smoking.

The case is one of thousands of Florida’s Engle progeny lawsuits against the nation’s tobacco companies. They stem 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 prevail and be entitled to those findings, however, each plaintiff must prove class membership by showing nicotine addiction caused a smoking-related disease such as lung cancer.

Rosenblum told jurors David Freeman started smoking at about 15, lured by marketing that glamorized cigarettes while tobacco industry messaging cast doubt on its health effects. Rosenblum said Freeman, who worked as a building contractor, carpenter, and pipefitter for much of his life, was so addicted to nicotine he failed several quit attempts before ultimately succeeding in 1990.

However, the defense contends Freeman actually started smoking as an adult and chose to continue, despite being well aware of smoking’s dangers. During his opening statement Tuesday, Joseph Fasi, of Gass Weber Mullins, said jurors would hear how Freeman referred to cigarettes as “cowboy killers” and warned his family against smoking. “He was never fooled by anything you’re going to hear for days about things that the tobacco companies were saying and doing,” Fasi said. “He was not waiting to hear anything from a cigarette company that would have influenced him to decide whether to quit or continue smoking.”

Fasi also contended Freeman’s job exposed him to asbestos and silica dust over the decades, which could have been the true cause of his lung cancer. Fasi said the plaintiffs’ own oncology expert would testify that he did not know the level of Freeman’s exposure to the hazardous building materials. But, “one thing he will tell you is having silica and asbestos can be a cause of lung cancer. And, he’s also going to tell you that, at age 54, to have lung cancer is highly unusual.”

Rosenblum countered that medical records proved smoking, rather than asbestos and silica exposure, caused Freeman’s cancer. “We have the CT scans--we have the reports of them, we have the X-ray reports. We have all these medical records, “ Rosenblum said. “And [you see] none of the things you would expect to see if a person developed lung cancer based on overwhelming exposure to asbestos or silica."

Trial is expected to last into next week.

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Related Information

Jo Freeman is represented by Dolan, Dobrinsky & Rosenblum’s Randy Rosenblum, Gordon & Doner’s Gary Paige, and Wilner Hartley & Metcalf’s Richard Lantinberg.

Philip Morris is represented by Joseph Fasi, of Gass Weber Mullins and Shook Hardy’s Hildy Sastre

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Topics: tobacco, Engle Progeny, Florida, Freeman v. Philip Morris USA