Timeline of Smoker's Fatal COPD at Issue as Trial Opens Against RJR

Posted by Arlin Crisco on May 11, 2023 4:23:11 PM


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Miami, FL— The timeline surrounding the development of a smoker’s respiratory disease served as a key point of dispute as trial opened against R.J. Reynolds last week over the woman's death from the condition. Sikes v. R.J. Reynolds, 2008-CA-000310.

Joyce Sikes died in 2009 from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, after more than 50 years of smoking. Sikes’ family claims R.J. Reynolds, maker of the Pall Mall and Camel brands she smoked for much of her life, is responsible by hooking her to cigarettes it knew were dangerous. 

The lawsuit is one of thousands of so-called “Engle-progeny” cases, claims spun from a 1990s class action by Florida smokers against the nation’s tobacco companies. After a trial court verdict in favor of the plaintiffs on defective design, fraud, and conspiracy claims, the Florida Supreme Court decertified the class. It ruled individual Engle progeny plaintiffs can recover only if they prove the smoker at the heart of each case was addicted to cigarettes that caused a smoking-related illness. Additionally, the smoker’s illness must have “manifested” between May 5, 1990 and November 21, 1996 to qualify for class membership. 


And whether Sikes’ disease “manifested” within that window is a central issue in the case. During last Thursday’s openings, the Sikes family’s attorney, Carlos Santisteban, Jr., of Carlos Santisteban, Jr., P.A., told jurors Sikes’ COPD manifested in early 1996, when she was hospitalized with symptoms of the condition. Santisteban added that, prior to that, Sikes had never been diagnosed with the disease or prescribed medication for the condition. 

“There’s not one medical record between 1988 and 1996 that has a diagnosis of COPD,” Santisteban said. “[It] doesn’t exist.”

But Reynolds counters that Sikes suffered from COPD as far back as the early 1980s. During Thursday’s openings, King & Spalding’s Antonio Lewis told jurors evidence would show Sikes reported telltale symptoms of the condition - including coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness - by 1987.  And he added that the plaintiff’s medical expert, Dr. Allan Feingold, believed Sikes had moderate COPD by that time, based on abnormal results from a pulmonary function test performed then. 

“He says, based on the results of her 1987 testing, he would have diagnosed her with COPD,” Lewis told jurors. 

Trial is expected to last into next week. 

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Topics: tobacco, Florida, Sikes v. R.J. Reynolds