Santa Fe, NM— Attorneys Monday debated what responsibility, if any, R.J. Reynolds bears for the deadly throat cancer a New Mexico man developed after decades of smoking, as trial opened against the tobacco giant. Perez v. R.J. Reynolds, D-101-CV-201902017.
Juan Gonzales died in 2019 at age 79 following complications from his second bout with laryngeal cancer. Gonzales had been a smoker for 50 years, favoring Reynolds’ unfiltered Lucky Strike-brand cigarettes until quitting upon his first cancer diagnosis in 2008.
Gonzales’ family contends Reynolds is responsible for his death because its Lucky Strikes were addictive and dangerous and because the company worked to conceal the dangers of smoking for much of the latter half of the 20th century.
During Monday’s openings, the Gonzales family’s attorney, Chris Johnson, of Bruster PLLC, told jurors evidence would show Reynolds engineered its Lucky Strike cigarettes to be inhalable and as addictive as possible to hook smokers like Gonzales. And he previewed tobacco industry documents he said showed Reynolds conspired with other cigarette makers to confuse the public and cast doubt on the health risks of smoking.
“It didn’t have to be this way. Reynolds cigarettes don’t have to be addictive,” Johnson said. "Reynolds didn’t have to lie to the public about the dangers of its product, and this many people didn’t have to die.”
But Reynolds argues its cigarettes are not defectively designed and Gonzales smoked for decades despite knowing the dangers of cigarettes.
In his opening Monday, King & Spalding’s Jason Keehfus said evidence would show nicotine and inhalability were fundamental elements of cigarettes, making them inherently dangerous but not defectively designed. And he said evidence would show Gonzales ignored warnings about smoking’s risks for decades.
“[Gonzales] wanted to make the decisions he wanted to make,” Keehfus said. “But he had the knowledge, he accepted the risks, and he made those decisions.”
Trial is expected to last through the end of next week.
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