"Stubborn" Soldier Was Responsible for His Own Smoking, Defense Says as Trial Opens Over Lung Cancer Death

Posted by Meghan Gourley on Oct 26, 2016 6:11:28 PM

Sarasota, FL—A former military man described as hard-headed, stubborn, and having a short fuse, was completely responsible for his own smoking and could not have been dissuaded from his 3-pack-a-day habit, the defense claimed in opening statements last week in the trial against the cigarette maker charged with conspiring to sell the cigarettes that led to his lung cancer and death. Johnston v. R.J. Reynolds, 2014-CA-004023.2014-CA-004023. 

Franklin James Johnston was 60 in 1995 when he died from lung cancer that had metastasized to his liver, bones, and brain, after one of his lungs had already been removed a year earlier. His widow, Barbara Johnston, claims R.J. Reynolds, the nation's second-largest cigarette manufacturer, caused her husband's nicotine addiction, and ultimately his deadly cancer, by conspiring to hide the dangers of the cigarettes he smoked from the time he was 13. Her attorney, Gary Paige, told jurors that Johnston only reached the 10th grade and likely didn't have the capacity to understand the dangers of smoking.

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During his opening, Johnston's lawyer, Gordon & Doner's Gary Paige, told jurors Johnston, who only reached 10th grade, was a target for the tobacco industry's broad scheme to hide the dangers of smoking. "When you’re selling a highly addictive product that 90% of all people who smoke cigarettes start as teenagers—they know that and they know that 50% of those teenagers will go onto die from a smoking-related illness," Paige said. 

Even after Johnston was diagnosed with lung cancer and told his doctors and family members he had quit smoking, his addiction was so strong, Paige said, that he continued to smoke and hide it from his family and doctors.

But defense attorneys maintained Johnston, who spent time in the army, was described as stubborn and strong-willed by those closest to him. "This case is about two decisions. One, the choice to smoke, and two, the choice to continue to smoke," said Jones Day's Stephen Kaczynski. "And in this case the evidence will show that Franklin James Johnston smoked because it was his choice, his decision to do so, and not because of any addiction, and not because of anything that R.J. Reynolds did, and having made that choice every time he took a cigarette out of the pack," Kaczynski said. "He alone should bear that responsibility for those choices, those decisions. Not 10% or 50%, but 100%."

Johnston's case stems from Engle v. Liggett Group, a class action suit originally filed in 1994. Although the state’s supreme court decertified the class in 2006, the state's supreme court ruled Engle cases must be tried individually, and found qualifying Engle progeny plaintiffs could rely on certain jury findings in the original case, including that tobacco companies sold a dangerous, addictive product. 

Related information

Gordon & Doner's Gary Paige represents Barbara Johnston.

Jones Day's Stephen Kaczynski represents R.J. Reynolds. 

Watch the trial live and on demand. 

Topics: Negligence, Products Liability, tobacco, Engle Progeny, Florida, Johnston v. R.J. Reynolds