Orlando, FL— Attorneys debated whether a tobacco industry conspiracy or a Florida smoker's own choices were to blame for the lung cancer that killed him at 49, as trial began this week against R.J. Reynolds. Hochreiter v. R.J. Reynolds, 2015CA003926.
Terry Carrico died from lung cancer in 1996, after more than 30 years of smoking 2-3 packs of cigarettes a day. His family claims R.J. Reynolds, makers of the Winston cigarettes Carrico favored, caused his fatal cancer through an industry-wide conspiracy to hide the dangers of smoking.
During Monday’s opening statements, Morgan & Morgan’s Keith Mitnik, representing Carrico’s family, walked jurors through tobacco industry documents that he said showed a decades-long scheme throughout much of the 20th century to conceal the dangers of cigarettes and cast doubt on scientific evidence linking smoking to cancer.
Mitnik said tobacco companies, including Reynolds, funded public relations campaigns and studies designed to undercut medical information on smoking and its connection to a host of diseases. “They acted bulletproof,” Mitnik said. “When things would surface… [tobacco industry members] were ready, willing, and able to attack it to keep as many people not believing, or at least doubting, so they could keep smoking, knowing they were going to be dying.”
According to Mitnik, Carrico, who grew up in Kentucky’s tobacco country, had his first cigarette by the time he was 11 and was a regular smoker by the time he was a teen. Mitnik said Carrico was one of millions of people duped by the tobacco industry conspiracy and ultimately hooked to a product that was potentially deadly.
The case is among thousands of similar claims spun from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a Florida class action tobacco suit originally filed in 1994. After a finding for the plaintiff class, the state’s supreme court ultimately ruled that class members’ cases—”Engle progeny cases”—must be tried individually on the link between nicotine addiction and each smoker’s disease. Each plaintiff that proves those elements can then rely on jury findings in the original case, including the determination that tobacco companies had placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and had conspired to hide the dangers of smoking through much of the 20th century.
But, Reynolds contends Carrico knew the dangers of cigarettes but chose to smoke. During Monday’s opening statement, Jones Day’s Jose Isasi told jurors Carrico’s father, who was also a smoker, died from throat cancer when Carrico was 10 and that Carrico often referred to cigarettes as “cancer sticks.”
Isasi said if Carrico had quit smoking in 1983, the same year his wife quit, he likely would never have developed lung cancer. But he said Carrico never went more than 2 or 3 hours without smoking and never took concrete steps typically associated with a smoker motivated to quit, such as asking for a doctor’s advice or throwing out his ashtrays. “What you’re going to hear [from plaintiffs] is that he didn’t have completely free choice in this because he was addicted. But there’s always a choice on whether or not to smoke and keep smoking,” Isasi said. “Their own experts will tell you that.”
“He and he alone made all the decisions about his smoking.”
Trial is expected to go into next week.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephanie Hochreiter is represented by Morgan & Morgan’s Keith Mitnik and Antonio Luciano.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by Jones Day’s Jose Isasi and Jacqueline Pasek.
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