Cause of Smoker's Death a Key Question in Trial Topping the Engle Progeny Review for the Week of March 9

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Mar 13, 2015 10:00:00 PM

Todd McPharlin tells jurors that medical records and expert testimony will establish Paul Pollari died of smoking-related lung cancer and not of a bleeding ulcer or other medical issue. McPharlin represents Pollari's widow, Rose, in her suit against Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds. Click here for live and on-demand trial video. 

Pollari v. R.J. Reynolds, et al. 

Questions surrounding what killed Paul Pollari took center stage as the trial in his widow’s suit against Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds opened Monday.

Describing Pollari’s emergency trip to the hospital for a bleeding gastric ulcer just days before he died, King & Spalding’s Ursula Henninger, representing Reynolds, told jurors “Mr. Pollari was bleeding so much that he was given four pints of blood (in transfusion), almost half of the blood that your body holds.”

“Two days after being discharged from suffering from this massive hemorrhage, he dies at home,” Henninger continued. “Plaintiff will be unable to prove that, even if Mr. Pollari had a primary lung cancer, that the primary lung cancer was the cause of his death.”

Watch Video from Tobacco Trials Pollari, a decades-long smoker, died in January 1994, just two days after being discharged from the hospital for a bleeding ulcer. Before the hospital admission, physicians had diagnosed Pollari with lung cancer, though the routine destruction of medical documents related to his cancer diagnosis and treatment raised questions of where his cancer originated.

Kelley Uustal’s Todd McPharlin, representing plaintiff Rose Pollari, told jurors medical evidence would show that terminal, smoking-related lung cancer, not a bleeding ulcer, killed Paul Pollari. Noting that Pollari entered hospice prior to his death, McPharlin told jurors “The doctors at Holy Cross Hospital didn’t discharge him home to hospice because he had an ulcer. They didn’t discharge him home to hospice because he had an infection. They discharged him home because they had treated him, and he was dying of lung cancer.”

Paul Pollari began smoking at 12 and smoked up to two-and-a-half packs of cigarettes a day until he died at 62.  

The first week of plaintiff’s case in chief focused on testimony that the tobacco industry engaged in a decades-long conspiracy to deny the dangerous health effects of cigarettes. Tobacco industry expert Robert Proctor testified for the bulk of the week, and detailed evidence of tobacco company tactics designed to make smoking nearly ubiquitous in American culture. Proctor said those tactics dovetailed with the industry’s support of agencies created to cast doubt on studies showing the dangers of smoking. “They accelerated a campaign of denial” in opposition to the increased medical evidence surrounding smoking’s hazards, Proctor said.

Under cross examination, Proctor acknowledged that tobacco industry-financed agencies published scientifically valuable studies concerning the makeup of cigarette smoke particulates as early as the 1960s. However, Proctor contended the studies’ conclusions were always suspect. “It’s very valuable for bibliographies, as long as you don’t believe the conclusions,” Proctor said. “Because they actually don’t believe it causes cancer.”

Next week: Plaintiff's case in chief is expected to continue throughout the week. 


Dion v. R.J. Reynolds

Whether Marion Dion suffered from a 40-plus year nicotine addiction that ultimately caused her fatal lung cancer, as her husband, George, contends in his wrongful death suit against R.J. Reynolds took center stage in what is likely the trial's last full week. 

On Wednesday, Dr. Kathleen Brady, an addiction psychiatrist, told jurors she believed Marion Dion was addicted to nicotine based on a variety of factors, including evidence that Dion suffered from withdrawal symptoms when she attempted to quit smoking and her resumption of smoking despite multiple quit attempts.  "She knew it was not a good thing, and everyone around her wanted her to stop, but she couldn't stop," Brady, who based her opinion on a review of records, told jurors. 

Marion Dion, who began smoking as a teenager, smoked for more than 40 years before finally quitting in 1993. Soon after, doctors diagnosed her with lung cancer. She died in October 1994. 

While George Dion's attorneys contend that Marion struggled with nicotine addiction throughout her life, failing in several attempts to quit the habit over the course of decades, the defense maintains Dion did not want to quit until 1990. On cross examination, Bradyacknowledged that information was scant concerning Marion Dion's quit attempts prior to the 1990s. Brady told jurors that family and friends had little or no recollection of Dion taking action to quit smoking until less than three years before her cancer diagnosis. "I think all of them said, though, that she was talking about trying to quit all the time and trying to cut down all the time," Brady said.

Next week: Closings arguments are expected by the middle of next week.


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Topics: Negligence, Products Liability, tobacco, Engle Progeny, Engle Progeny Review, Dion v. R.J. Reynolds, Pollari v. R.J. Reynolds et al