West Palm Beach, FL— Attorneys this week argued over whether R.J. Reynolds is responsible for the cancer death of a 42-year-old Florida smoker, as trial opened against the tobacco giant. Adamson v. R.J. Reynolds, 2016CA008532.
Jacklyn Adamson died in 1992, more than a year after being diagnosed with cancer, and after smoking for about 25 years. Her daughter claims Reynolds’ involvement in a scheme to hide the dangers of smoking hooked Adamson to cigarettes and led to fatal lung cancer.
During Tuesday’s opening statements, Morgan & Morgan's James Clark walked jurors through documents he said showed Reynolds and other tobacco companies undermined evidence of smoking’s risks throughout much of the 20th century, while marketing cigarettes to youth they understood would often become addicted to nicotine.
“The market is teenagers and sustaining their markets through teenage addiction,” Clark said, “including Jacklyn Adamson.”
The case is among thousands that stem from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a 1994 Florida state court class-action lawsuit against Reynolds and other tobacco companies. The state's supreme court ultimately decertified the class, but ruled so-called 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 conspired to hide the dangers of smoking. However, in order to be entitled to those findings, plaintiffs must prove the smokers at the heart of their cases suffered from nicotine addiction that caused a smoking-related disease.
In addition to challenging whether Adamson was actually addicted, Reynolds argues that Adamson’s cancer likely did not begin in her lungs. During Tuesday’s openings, King & Spalding’s Kathryn Lehman told jurors there was scant medical evidence of Adamson’s cancer treatment and no definitive test results available that would prove she had lung cancer.
Lehman told jurors Adamson’s age at the time doctors diagnosed her with the disease, and the symptoms she experienced, were not typical of lung cancer. “The evidence is not going to [prove] that Mrs. Adamson had primary lung cancer,” Lehman said, “let alone that she had primary lung cancer caused by smoking, or that primary lung cancer caused her death.”
Trial is expected to run through next week.
Julie Adamson is represented by Morgan & Morgan's James Clark and Antonio Luciano.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by King & Spalding’s Jeffrey Furr and Kathryn Lehman.
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