Miami, FL— Jurors heard arguments last week over what caused the cancer death of a World War II vet who smoked for more than half a century, as trial opened against R.J. Reynolds. Yount v. R.J. Reynolds, 2007CA030346.
Leo Yount began smoking as a teenager in the 1930s and continued smoking for more than fifty years, quitting two years before his 1993 lung cancer death, at 72. His wife, Lois Yount, contends Reynolds’s role in a long-standing conspiracy to hide the dangers of smoking hooked her husband, a World War II Army officer, to cigarettes, and ultimately caused his cancer.
During Thursday’s opening statements, Lois Yount’s attorney, The Trop Law Group’s Adam Trop, told jurors the teenage Yount was part of the tobacco industry’s “laser-focused” target demographic. And Trop highlighted evidence he said showed Reynolds worked with other tobacco companies to hide the smoking’s risks, helping hook Yount to cigarettes.
“At the time Mr. Yount made his choices about smoking, he didn’t have the information [about smoking’s dangers]. He wasn’t making informed choices,” Trop said. “Not only the first one, [but] for the next 29 years or so, he did not know that these cigarettes caused disease or led to disease. He certainly didn’t know that the tobacco companies knew for sure that they did.”
The lawsuit is among thousands of claims that stem from Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a 1994 Florida state court class-action case against the nation’s tobacco companies. The state's supreme court ultimately decertified the class, but ruled that so-called 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 conspired to hide the dangers of smoking. However, in order to be entitled to those findings, plaintiffs must prove the smokers at the heart of their cases suffered from nicotine addiction that caused a smoking-related disease.
Reynolds contends its marketing initiatives did not sway Yount’s smoking decisions and that Yount’s own choices led to his fatal lung cancer. During Thursday’s openings, King & Spalding’s Randall Bassett noted that cigarettes carried warning labels for decades before Yount ultimately quit. And Bassett added that Yount, whose nephew died from lung cancer in the 1970s, heard about the dangers of smoking from a variety of sources over the years.
“Had [Yount] quit in the ‘50s, had he quit in the ‘60s, had he even quit up into the 1970s,” Bassett said, “he would have had enough time to avoid that lung cancer that he ultimately was diagnosed with in 1993.”
Trial is expected to last through the week.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lois Yount is represented by The Trop Law Group’s Adam Trop.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by King & Spalding’s Randall Bassett.
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