Miami, FL— A Florida smoker died of cancer after decades of believing tobacco marketing concerning filtered cigarettes, an attorney for the man’s family said Wednesday, as trial opened against the country’s two largest tobacco companies. Fields v. Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, 2008-CA-1274.
“Mark Fields told his son… ‘At least I’ve got the filters,’” The Trop Law Group’s Adam Trop said, when detailing Fields’ opinions on smoking. But, Trop told jurors, “Probably the only folks who knew the filters weren’t doing anything were working for Philip Morris or R.J. Reynolds."
Mark Fields began smoking as a teenager sometime in the mid-1940s and continued for more than 40 years. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1996, however, and died about a year later. His widow contends a scheme involving Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds to hide the dangers and addictiveness of cigarettes ultimately caused Fields’ cancer.
During Wednesday’s openings, Trop highlighted documents he said showed Reynolds and Philip Morris engaged in a decades-long initiative to undercut scientific evidence of smoking’s risks, while marketing cigarette designs like filters that the companies knew were no safer for smokers.
Trop said Fields began smoking at least 15 full years before the first health warnings appeared on cigarette packs, and ultimately became hooked on nicotine and a target of the tobacco industry conspiracy throughout much of his life. “Tobacco companies never once — not once — admitted that their product was addictive or that it caused lung cancer, until after Mr. Fields died,” Trop said.
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 the cases, may be tried individually. Plaintiffs in the so-called Engle progeny cases 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.
However, the defense argues Fields knew the dangers of smoking and was not interested in quitting in time to avoid his cancer. During Wednesday’s openings, Gass Weber Mullins’ Joseph Fasi told jurors Fields lectured his son on the dangers of smoking as far back as 1973. “There is no doubt, based on the evidence in this case, that Mr. Fields knew [of smoking’s risks], no doubt at all,” Fasi said. “But he was not interested in quitting, because, as he would say, ‘It’s not going to happen to me.’”
King & Spalding’s Philip Green, representing R.J. Reynolds, agreed, and told jurors Fields ignored decades of pleas from family and friends to stop smoking. Green noted Fields ultimately quit in 1996, shortly before his lung cancer diagnosis. “Mr. Fields had the ability to quit smoking sooner,” Green said. But,“only Mr. Fields could have made that decision to quit smoking sooner than he did.
Trial is expected to last into next week.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Violette Fields is represented by The Trop Law Group’s Adam Trop, Dolan Dobrinsky Rosenblum’s Randy Rosenblum, and The Gordon Partners’ Cassandra Castellano-Lombardo.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by King & Spalding’s Philip Green.
Philip Morris is represented by Gass Weber Mullins’ Joseph Fasi.
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