Miami, FL— Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds prevailed Friday at trial over the role cigarettes played in a long-time Florida smoker’s death. Fields v. Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, 2008-CA-1274.
Jurors in Florida’s 11th Circuit concluded nicotine addiction did not cause Mark Fields’ fatal lung cancer, a foundational issue his widow’s suit against the two tobacco companies.
Fields began smoking as a teenager in the 1940s and continued for about half a century. Doctors diagnosed him with lung cancer in 1996 shortly after he had quit smoking, and he died about a year later, at 66. Fields’ widow, Violette Fields, contends the tobacco companies concealed the dangers and addictive nature of their cigarettes for years, ultimately causing Fields’ cancer.
During Thursday’s closing arguments, Violette Fields' attorney, Dolan Dobrinsky Rosenblum’s Randy Rosenblum, requested $10 million in compensatory damages plus a finding that punitives were warranted.
The case is among thousands that stem from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a 1994 Florida state court class-action lawsuit against Reynolds and other tobacco companies. The state's supreme court ultimately decertified the class, but ruled the cases, may be tried individually. Plaintiffs in the so-called Engle progeny cases are entitled to the benefit of the jury's findings in the original verdict, including the determination that tobacco companies placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and conspired to hide the dangers of smoking. However, in order to be entitled to those findings, plaintiffs must prove the smokers at the heart of their cases suffered from nicotine addiction that caused a smoking-related disease.
On Thursday, Rosenblum walked jurors through Fields’ roughly 50 years of smoking and noted expert testimony that concluded Fields became hooked to nicotine in his teens and gradually became more addicted to cigarettes over the years. Rosenblum said fault for that addiction rested squarely with the tobacco companies. “[Cigarettes] are designed to be addictive, and they are addictive,” Rosenblum said. “And their business has always been selling an addictive drug.”
But the defense argued Fields knew the risks of cigarettes from an early age, yet chose to continue smoking and had no interest in quitting in time to avoid his cancer. During Thursday’s closings, Gass Weber Mullins’ Joseph Fasi told jurors there was no concrete evidence that any of Fields’ treating physicians had ever diagnosed him as addicted to nicotine. And he walked jurors through evidence he said showed no more than a couple of attempts to quit smoking in the years before 1996. “You no know that Mr. Fields smoked because he enjoyed smoking,” Fasi said. “Smoking was his way of life.”
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Violette Fields is represented by The Trop Law Group’s Adam Trop, Dolan Dobrinsky Rosenblum’s Randy Rosenblum, and The Gordon Partners’ Cassandra Castellano-Lombardo.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by King & Spalding’s Philip Green.
Philip Morris is represented by Gass Weber Mullins’ Joseph Fasi.
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