Miami, FL— A Florida state court jury Wednesday found a woman’s claim against R.J. Reynolds was time-barred, clearing the tobacco company of liability for the heart disease she claims was caused by the company’s cigarettes. Clark v. R.J. Reynolds, 2008-CA-000231.
Although the jury, in Florida’s 11th Circuit, in Dade County, found Mildred Clark’s addiction to Reynolds cigarettes caused her coronary artery disease, it concluded the disease itself developed after November 21, 1996. That finding excluded her from membership in a class of Florida smokers potentially entitled to recover against companies like Reynolds.
Clark, who smoked up to 3 packs of cigarettes a day for decades, contends Reynolds’s involvement in a scheme to hide the dangers of smoking hooked her to cigarettes and ultimately caused her coronary heart disease, among other illnesses.
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, but ruled Engle progeny cases may be tried individually. Plaintiffs 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 hid the dangers of smoking.
To be entitled to those findings, however, each plaintiff must prove the smoker at the heart of their case suffered from nicotine addiction that was the legal cause of a smoking-related disease between May 5, 1990 and November 21, 1996.
The six-day trial turned on whether Clark’s coronary artery disease, or CAD, developed before the end of the Engle class cut-off period. During Tuesday’s closings, Clark’s attorney, Koch Parafinczuk Wolf Susen’s Austin Carr, reminded jurors Clark complained of tell-tale symptoms of coronary artery disease, such as malaise, well before the November 1996 cut-off date. “You have those… objective symptoms from her son and from her own testimony in which she recalls what caused her to stop working,” Carr said, “[The disease] doesn’t happen overnight.”
But the defense contended there was no concrete medical evidence supporting the claim Clark had heart disease before the cut-off date. During Tuesday’s closings, King & Spalding’s Ursula Henninger argued evidence showed Clark’s leg pain and swelling were not connected to coronary artery disease. And she argued the results of a cardiac stress test Clark took after the cut-off date proved Clark did not have CAD at the time.. “The doctors who administered a stress test for her in 1997 said, “Nope, no [arterial] blockage,” Henninger said. “This disproves all manifestation [of CAD] prior to 1997.”
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Mildred Clark is represented by Koch Parafinczuk Wolf Susen’s Austin Carr and the Menendez Law Firm’s Jose Menendez.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by King & Spalding’s Ursula Henninger and Todd Davis.
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