Philip Morris Prevails in Florida Design Defect Trial Over Virginia Slims Smoker's Throat Cancer

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Jul 5, 2024 1:22:42 PM


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Miami, FL— Jurors last week cleared Philip Morris of responsibility for the laryngeal cancer a Florida woman developed after years of smoking the company’s "Virginia Slims" cigarettes. Santana v. Philip Morris. 

The state court jury, in Florida's 11th circuit, capped an eight-day trial by finding in favor of Philip Morris on a design defect claim related to its Virginia Slims, which Tomasa Santana, who began smoking in the 1970s, favored for much of her life. 

Santana was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer in 2015. She died in 2018 at age 61 from a separate cancer unrelated to smoking, focusing the lawsuit against Philip Morris on the two-and-a-half years she suffered from her throat cancer. Santana’s husband, Jose Santana, claims Philip Morris’ cigarettes were defectively designed and unreasonably dangerous. 

The case against Philip Morris is a relatively unusual Florida tobacco lawsuit that is not among the thousands of so-called “Engle progeny” cases spun from an earlier class action against the nation’s cigarette companies. Unlike “Engle progeny” suits, in which design defect are already resolved against tobacco defendants, the Santana case required plaintiff to prove his design-defect claim in order to prevail. 

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During closings Thursday of last week, Jose Santana’s attorney, Richard Diaz of Richard J. Diaz, P.A., reviewed evidence he said showed that Philip Morris engaged in an array of marketing and messaging initiatives intended to normalize smoking, while undercutting warnings about cigarettes and their link to diseases such as cancer. Meanwhile, he said, the company designed its cigarettes to burn, and be easily inhalable, while it manipulated nicotine levels to fuel smokers’ addiction to the product. 

“We only need to prove one [is a design defect]: high nicotine, inhalability, or combustibility. Any one of those, or the combination, plus addiction, is what gives you the sustained nicotine use and the toxicant exposure.”

But Shook Hardy & Bacon’s Lindsey Heinz, representing Philip Morris, countered that the facts that cigarettes contain nicotine, burn, and are inhalable are all qualities that define a cigarette, and thus, not design defects. And she told jurors that cigarettes are inherently dangerous, which she said consumers generally understood while Santana was smoking Virginia Slims.

“All cigarettes, including Virginia Slims,” Heinz said, “were exactly as dangerous as people knew and expected them to be.” 

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Topics: tobacco, Florida, Santana v. Philip Morris