Alex Alvarez, left, and Steven Geise, right, deliver their closing arguments at trial against R.J. Reynolds over the lung cancer an Oregon woman developed after decades of smoking Camel-brand cigarettes.
Portland, OR— Jurors Friday afternoon cleared R.J. Reynolds of responsibility for the terminal lung cancer an Oregon woman developed after decades of smoking the company's cigarettes, concluding what is likely the first in-person, state court tobacco trial in nearly a year. Rickman v. R.J. Reynolds, 19CV28636.
The Oregon state court jury, in Multnomah County, deliberated more than 8 hours before ruling 10-2 in favor of Reynolds on Patricia Rickman's fraud claim against the company.
Rickman, 46, who says she was a regular smoker by the time she was about 13, continued smoking a variety of Reynolds’s Camel-brand cigarettes for more than 30 years. In 2018, she was diagnosed with lung cancer, which doctors now consider terminal. Rickman claims that Reynolds’s participation in a decades-long campaign to misrepresent the health effects of smoking ultimately caused her cancer.
During Thursday’s closings, Rickman’s attorney, The Alvarez Law Firm’s Alex Alvarez, requested up to $12.7 million for her, plus loss-of-consortium damages for her husband and a finding that punitives were warranted.
The verdict wrapped what may be the first large-scale, state court products liability trial to be held in person since the coronavirus pandemic forced historic restrictions on proceedings across the country last March. The six-day trial featured safety protocols that are becoming the new norm as jury proceedings slowly return to courtrooms. Jurors were spaced throughout the courtroom as they listened to testimony, while Circuit Court Judge Judith Matarazzo, attorneys, and witnesses alike spoke through masks.
The case turned in part on whether tobacco industry messaging swayed Rickman’s smoking decisions. During Thursday’s closings, Alvarez walked jurors through decades of tobacco industry documents he said showed Reynolds’s involvement in a scheme to sow doubt and confusion about the effects of smoking, while falsely marketing "filtered" and "light" cigarettes as safer alternatives to unfiltered brands.
“Every single time she bought a cigarette, it had the word 'filter' on it,” Alvarez said. “ Every single time, they committed a fraud, and they knew it.”
However, Reynolds argues Rickman smoked despite knowing the dangers of cigarettes. On Thursday, Jones Day’s Steven Geise, representing Reynolds, told jurors Rickman began smoking years after mandatory warnings went onto cigarette packs and continued despite widespread information concerning smoking’s dangers.
The evidence, Geise said, undercut Rickman’s contention that she did not believe smoking was dangerous until about 2015. “It stretches the bounds of reason,” Geise said, “to think that somebody could go into the 2010s and not have any idea that cigarette smoking was bad.”
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