Trial Begins Against RJR Over 50-Year-Old Smoker's Death

Posted by Arlin Crisco on Feb 8, 2022 4:32:57 PM


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Clearwater, FL— Attorneys Monday argued over what drove a Florida man to smoke for decades, as trial opened against R.J. Reynolds over his cancer death. Giambalvo v. R.J. Reynolds, 18-001663-CI-15.

Salvatore “Sam” Giambalvo, a regular smoker by 15, was 50 years old when he died of lung cancer in 1999, after decades of smoking up to two-and-a-half packs of cigarettes a day. Giambalvo’s wife claims Reynolds cigarettes, and the company’s role in a conspiracy to conceal the dangers of smoking, caused his death.

The lawsuit is one of thousands of so-called Engle-progeny cases, claims spun from a 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. 

During Monday’s openings, the Giambalvo family’s attorney, Searcy Denney’s James Gustafson, previewed evidence he said showed Giambalvo was hooked to nicotine, and that his nicotine addiction was driven by tobacco industry initiatives designed to hide smoking’s risks. 

“When he was a teenager and emulated the heroes and stars of the day, doing something that he thought made him appear grown up and capable, he had no idea about nicotine addiction and cancer,” Gustafson said. “But the evidence will show R.J. Reynolds sure did.”

But Reynolds argues Giambalvo was warned for decades about the dangers of cigarettes, yet chose to continue to smoke. On Monday, Jones Day’s Frank Bayuk previewed testimony he said showed that Giambalvo smoked because he enjoyed cigarettes and did not make a serious quit attempt in time to avoid his cancer. 

“He smoked as part of this lifestyle that he enjoyed,” Bayuk said. “He was not a tortured smoker who was looking to the tobacco industry to make his decisions.” 

Trial is expected to run through next week. 

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Topics: Engle Progeny, Florida, Giambalvo v. R.J. Reynolds