Miami, FL— Attorneys Monday debated who was responsible for the cancer death of a Florida smoker, as trial opened against R.J. Reynolds. Rey v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 2007-CA-046340.
Fernando Rey immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba as an 11-year old in 1960, and began smoking when he was a teen, favoring Reynolds’ unfiltered Camel cigarettes through much of his life. Rey died in 1996, six months after he was diagnosed with cancer. His children contend Reynolds is responsible for Rey’s fatal lung cancer by selling cigarettes the company knew were dangerous.
During his opening statement Monday, Rey’s attorney, The Alvarez Law Firm’s Xavier Navarro, told jurors evidence would show Reynolds engineered its cigarettes to be as addictive as possible, all while knowing the risks of cancer and other disease that they posed. And he said Rey, who smoked up to three packs of cigarettes a day for more than 30 years, was so hooked on cigarettes, he continued to smoke even after his lung cancer diagnosis.
“Fernando Rey made certain choices, and we’re going to talk about that. The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company also made certain choices,” Navarro said. “They made a choice to design their product to create and sustain addiction.”
The case is one of thousands of so-called “Engle-progeny” claims, lawsuits spun from an ultimately decertified 1990s class action by Florida smokers against the nation’s tobacco companies. In decertifying the class following a trial court verdict against the companies, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that individual Engle progeny plaintiffs can recover only if they prove the smoker at the heart of each case was addicted to cigarettes that legally caused a smoking-related illness.
And as trial in the Rey trial opened, legal causation and fault showed themselves as key battle lines in the case, with Reynolds contending that Rey’s own smoking-related decisions led to his cancer. During Monday’s opening statements, King & Spalding’s Randy Bassett walked jurors through evidence he said would show Rey was warned repeatedly of smoking’s risks, by statements on cigarette packs, family members, and others, but never stopped smoking for any appreciable length of time.
“You’ll hear that, while many people were coming to him asking him to quit, he would often say ‘I’ll try, I’ll try,’” Bassett said. “[But] when you actually look at what he was doing, or really not doing, it’s very clear that Mr. Rey was not actually trying to quit, did not want to quit.”
Trial is expected to last through next week.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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