Boston, MA— Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds prevailed at trial last week over the lung cancer death of a Massachusetts woman who smoked for more than 50 years. Kinnally v. R.J. Reynolds, et al., 1684CV03937.
A Massachusetts state court jury cleared the two tobacco companies of responsibility for the death of Joanne Kinnally, who died of lung cancer in 2014. Kinnally, 71, had smoked for roughly 55 years, favoring Kent-brand cigarettes, now owned by R.J. Reynolds, and Philip Morris’ Marlboro Lights. Kinally’s husband claimed those cigarettes were defectively designed and the companies engaged in a conspiracy to hide the dangers of smoking, which he contended ultimately caused Kinnally’s fatal cancer.
Jurors also cleared DeMoulas Super Markets, Inc. of claims that the grocer sold dangerous, defective cigarettes to Kinnally.
Central to the three-week trial was whether the Kents and Marlboro Lights the two companies sold were defectively designed.
During his closing argument, The Kinnally family’s attorney, Andrew Rainer, of The Public Health Advocacy Institute, highlighted evidence he said showed that the two companies worked on safer cigarette designs, including de-nicotinized and non-combustible cigarettes that would be non-addictive and less carcinogenic. However, he said they did not adequately market and support those designs. Instead, Rainer argued the companies worked to engineer cigarettes to be as addictive as possible, despite knowing the health risks they presented.
“This is about a conscious decision by tobacco companies to make a product that they knew was addictive to get young people, like 16-year-old Joanne Kinnally, addicted and then have them as customers, for their lives, until they got sick,” Rainer said.
But the defense contended that cigarettes are inherently dangerous and while the companies explored alternative cigarette designs, those alternatives were not practically viable.
During his closing, Philip Morris’ attorney, Shook Hardy & Bacon’s William Geraghty, told jurors that cigarettes were, by definition, inhalable, combustible products. And he added that, while Philip Morris tried to sell a de-nicotinized alternative in the late 20th century, that brand wasn’t accepted by consumers and was criticized by the public health community at the time.
“Philip Morris invested tremendous time and effort trying to make safer cigarettes, and of course you heard that they were unsuccessful to make a [safer] cigarette that consumers would like and would use.”
And Jones Day’s Jason Keehfus, representing Reynolds, added that proposed alternatives were not feasible while Kinnally was smoking Kents. “There was no safer, feasible - technologically feasible and practical - design… while she was smoking Kent way back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s,” Keehfus said.
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
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