Miami, FL— Attorneys Monday debated what fueled the years of smoking that ultimately led to a Florida woman's cancer death, as trial opened against Philip Morris. Lipp v. Philip Morris, 2017-CA-018509.
Norma Lipp, 55, died from lung cancer in 1993, after decades of smoking one or two packs of cigarettes a day. Lipp’s family claims Philip Morris, makers of the Virginia Slims Lipp smoked for roughly 15 years, hid the dangers of smoking and helped fuel her addiction to nicotine.
During Monday’s openings, The Alvarez Law Firm’s Michael Alvarez highlighted tobacco industry documents he said showed Philip Morris participated in a decades-long conspiracy to undermine evidence of smoking's dangers.
Alvarez told jurors Lipp was so hooked to cigarettes that she failed in numerous attempts to quit and was unable to stop smoking even after having part of her lung removed. "During all this time, [Philip Morris knew] how hard it is for people to quit," Alvarez said, as he highlighted industry documents discussing smokers who wished to quit. "At times when they know people are having trouble stopping, they’re trying to look for ways to ‘intercept’ that."
The case is among thousands that stem from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a 1994 Florida state court class-action lawsuit against tobacco companies. The state's supreme court later decertified the class, but ruled Engle progeny cases may be tried individually. Plaintiffs 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 hid the dangers of smoking.
To be entitled to those findings, however, each plaintiff must prove the smoker at the heart of their case suffered from nicotine addiction that was the legal cause of a smoking-related disease.
While Philip Morris, acknowledges smoking was the medical cause of Lipp's cancer, the company contends Lipp was aware of the dangers of cigarettes and smoked by choice rather than because of addiction.
During Monday’s openings, Boies Schiller Flexner’s Marshall Dore Louis walked jurors through a timeline highlighting widespread messaging - including medical studies, U.S. Surgeon General’s reports, and cigarette pack warnings - surrounding evidence of smoking’s dangers throughout the latter half of the 20th century.
And Louis said Lipp actually quit smoking during each of her three pregnancies in the 1970s, only to return to cigarettes after each child was born.
"If Mrs. Lipp had chosen to quit smoking in 1964 when the first Surgeon General’s report came out, or when the warnings were put on the packs of cigarettes in 1966, or if she had chosen to stay quit after her pregnancies, we likely would not be here today," Louis said, “because she likely would not have developed lung cancer.”
This is the second time the case has gone to trial. The case was midway through its first trial in March 2020 when the coronavirus pandemic shut down courts across the state. Eleventh Circuit Court Judge Peter Lopez subsequently declared a mistrial in that proceeding. Judge Lopez presides over the current trial in the case.
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
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