Tampa, FL— R.J. Reynolds’s marketing of cigarettes the company knew were dangerous drove a Florida woman to smoke for 50 years and led to her fatal respiratory disease, an attorney for the woman’s family said as trial opened Wednesday against the company. Durrance-Jones v. R.J. Reynolds, 2008-CA-009036.
“[Dorothy Durrance] didn’t know what R.J. Reynolds knew. Filters don’t work, they don’t do any good. Light cigarettes are just as dangerous as the regulars,” Searcy Denney’s James Gustafson told jurors Wednesday. “This defendant led smokers like Dorothy Durrance to believe that filters and health brands and lights were better for them, and it was all a lie.”
Durrance was born in 1916 — part of a war-era birth cohort commonly known as the "Greatest Generation" — and started smoking in the early 1930s. She favored a variety of Reynolds brands across 50-plus years, before she quit in 1984.
Doctors diagnosed her with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease , or COPD, in 1992, and her children contend her 2000 death from complications related to the disease was caused by Reynolds’s role in a scheme to hide the dangers of smoking.
During Wednesday’s openings, Gustafson described Durrance as a woman swept up in an early 20th century culture in which smoking became commonplace. He said Durrance soon became heavily addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes and as the decades passed, bought into tobacco industry marketing that lights and filtered brands were less dangerous than their traditional counterparts.
The case is one of thousands that stem from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a 1994 Florida state court class-action lawsuit against the nation’s tobacco companies. 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.
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Reynolds counters that Durrance knew smoking was dangerous but was uninterested in quitting in time to avoid her respiratory disease. During Wednesday’s openings, Jones Day’s Jose Isasi, representing Reynolds, said evidence would show Durrance succeeded in her first serious quit attempt, and had warned her children for years not to smoke. “Mrs. Durrance knew for decades and decades that smoking could be harmful to her,” Isasi said. “Mrs. Durrance was aware for decades and decades that smoking could be addictive.”
Trial is expected to last through next week.
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