Bartow, FL— Jurors Friday found R.J. Reynolds was not responsible for the death of a Florida Vietnam vet who smoked up to three packs of cigarettes a day for decades. Russell v. R.J. Reynolds, 2010-CA-005234.
The Florida 10th Judicial Circuit Court jury, in Polk County, deliberated for about four hours before concluding nicotine addiction was not the legal cause of Robert McCain’s lung cancer and respiratory disease.
McCain, a Marine who served two tours of duty in Vietnam, smoked up to three packs of cigarettes a day for much of his adult life. Doctors diagnosed him with lung cancer in 1992, which they successfully treated. However, he died in 2008, after suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.
McCain’s family contends lung cancer treatment weakened his respiratory system, leading to his ultimate death from COPD. And, they contend Reynolds is to blame for the diseases by hooking McCain to cigarettes and conspiring to hide the dangers of smoking for much of the latter half of the 20th century.
During Friday’s closing arguments, McCain's family’s attorney, William Wichmann of the Law Offices of William Wichmann, requested $15-18 million in compensatory damages, plus a finding punitives were warranted.
The case is one of thousands that stem from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a 1994 Florida state court class-action lawsuit against Reynolds and the nation's other tobacco companies, in which jurors found for the plaintiffs. The state's supreme court later decertified the class, ruling Engle progeny cases may be tried individually.
But, plaintiffs in each case must prove nicotine addiction legally caused a smoker’s disease in order to be entitled to the original jury’s findings that tobacco companies placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and hid the dangers of smoking.
During Friday’s closings, Wichmann reminded jurors of tobacco industry documents that he said showed Reynolds and other companies manufactured cigarettes to be as addictive as possible while working to undercut studies showing the dangers of smoking.
Wichmann said this campaign helped hook McCain to cigarettes and rendered him so dependent on nicotine that he continued to smoke even after part of one lung was removed due to cancer. “It’s not a matter of free choice,” Wichmann said, noting expert testimony concluding McCain was a nicotine addict. “The only evidence you have heard in this case is that Mr. McCain was severely addicted to nicotine.”
But Reynolds contended that choice, and not addiction, was the true cause of McCain’s smoking-related diseases. During Friday’s closings, Jones Day’s Jose Isasi told jurors evidence showed McCain was a well-read, educated man who knew the dangers of cigarettes, chose to smoke out of enjoyment, and rejected repeated pleas for him to quit. “They were his choices to make,” Isasi said. “He made fully informed choices.”
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
Plaintiffs are represented by William Wichmann, of the Law Offices of William Wichmann.
The defense is represented by Jones Day’s Jose Isasi and Jesika French.
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