Tobacco Trial Opens With Battle of Timelines Surrounding Ex-Smoker's COPD

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Nov 8, 2021 2:15:22 PM


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Jacksonville, FL— As trial opened last week against R.J. Reynolds over a Florida woman’s respiratory disease, claims surrounding the disease’s onset promise to play a key role in the case. Wydra v. R.J. Reynolds. 

Kathleen Wydra started smoking regularly about 1964, when she was about 17, and smoked a pack or more of cigarettes a day until ultimately quitting in 1998. Wydra claims that Reynolds’ involvement in a widespread conspiracy to hide the dangers of smoking hooked her to cigarettes and ultimately caused her chronic respiratory disease, or COPD. 

The case 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, the Florida Supreme Court decertified the class, ruling individual plaintiffs could recover only if they proved the smoker at the heart of each case was addicted to cigarettes that caused a disease "manifesting" between May 5, 1990 and November 21, 1996.

It’s that time period, and questions surrounding when Wydra’s respiratory disease manifested that serve as a central point of contention.


During Friday’s openings, Wydra’s attorney, Avera & Smith’s Rod Smith, acknowledged that the earliest available medical records diagnosing Wydra with COPD came from 1999, years after the cutoff date for class membership. However, he told jurors Wydra saw a pulmonologist for symptoms of COPD as far back as 1995 and that an expert’s review of those 1999 test results would show she suffered from the disease at least four years earlier. 

That effects of that disease, Smith said, are irreversible. 

“Despite the fact that Mrs. Wydra quit smoking over 25 years ago, her loss of lung capacity… can never be regained,” Smith said. 

But Reynolds contends there’s not enough evidence to show her respiratory disease developed within the class membership period. 

During Friday’s openings, Jones Day’s Emily Baker told jurors that 1999 records detailing her medical history didn’t mention she’d previously seen anyone for respiratory problems. 

And Baker said Wydra’s own claims concerning the timeline of her COPD changed after she sued Reynolds. “You’ll see that before she filed this lawsuit, Mrs. Wydra was telling her doctors and her healthcare providers that the onset of her COPD was 1998,” Baker said. “Not a single record before Mrs. Wydra filed this lawsuit says anything other than that.”

Trial is expected to run through the week. 

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