Tobacco Retrial Opens Against RJR, 10 Years After Case Last Saw Jury

Posted by Arlin Crisco on May 17, 2024 3:50:22 PM


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Fort Lauderdale, FL— Attorneys debated who was responsible for a Florida man’s death after decades of smoking, as retrial in a case that saw a jury 10 years ago opened Wednesday against R.J. Reynolds. Irimi v. R.J. Reynolds, CACE08026337. 

Dale Moyer, 83, died in 2013 of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, and parotid cancer. Moyer smoked Reynolds cigarettes throughout much of his life, and his daughter, Heather Irimi, claims the tobacco company is responsible for his death by concealing the dangers of cigarettes and hooking him to smoking. 

The case is one of thousands that stem from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a 1994 Florida state court class-action lawsuit against Reynolds and the nation's other 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, so-called, “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.

As trial opened Wednesday, questions surrounding addiction and what drove Moyer to smoke for decades promised to play central roles in the case. 


During his opening, Irimi’s attorney, Jonathan Gdanski, of Schlesinger Law Offices, walked jurors through evidence he said showed Reynolds manipulated the nicotine in cigarettes to make them as addictive as possible, while participating in a decades-long, industry-wide campaign to conceal the risks of smoking. This combination, Gdanski said, hooked Moyer to cigarettes and ultimately led to his death. 

“The industry mastered the technique of manipulating truth,” Gdanski said before detailing evidence he said linked tobacco false messaging with Moyer’s own smoking choices. “They manipulated the product, but they also manipulated the truth.”

But Reynolds counters Moyer knew the dangers of smoking, could have quit whenever he was sufficiently motivated, but did not do enough to stop in time to avoid his illness. On Wednesday, Jones Day's Jason Keehfus highlighted evidence that he said showed Moyer was warned about the dangers of smoking from a variety of sources. And he said Moyer successfully quit smoking, after his respiratory disease worsened, the first time he stayed away from cigarettes for more than 24 hours. 

“Only Mr. Moyer could have changed the course of events. He could have quit smoking at a time when he would have avoided any smoking-related injury, and we wouldn’t be here,” Keehfus said. “He made a different decision, but he did so with the knowledge of the potential risks and dangers.”

This is the second time the case has made it to trial. In 2014, jurors handed down a roughly $3.1 million verdict in the case, and found Moyer 70 percent responsible for his smoking-related disease. In 2018, Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed an order granting a new trial in the case due to issues with that trial’s voir dire. 

The face of the case has changed since it last saw a jury, however. In the first trial, Lorillard (now owned by Reynolds) and Liggett were co-defendants with Reynolds, while Moyer’s cause of death was contested. In this trial, Reynolds stands as the only defendant, and the parties stipulate smoking Reynolds cigarettes caused Moyer's death from respiratory disease and cancer. 

Trial is expected to run through next week. 

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