Vero Beach, FL—Three of the country’s largest tobacco companies prevailed Thursday in a former smoker’s suit for the lung cancer and respiratory disease she claims was caused by an addiction to cigarettes. Collar v. R.J. Reynolds, et al., 2011-CA-000115.
Jurors answered “no” to the initial questions of whether Fannie Collar, a smoker for 50 years according to her attorneys, was addicted to nicotine and whether that addiction caused her lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Collar, 81, was diagnosed with lung cancer and COPD in the early 1990s. Although physicians successfully treated her cancer, Collar’s COPD is incurable and she relies on an oxygen tank to help her breathe. She sued R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris, and the Liggett Group, claiming they concealed the dangers of smoking for decades causing her nicotine addiction and, ultimately, her smoking-related diseases.
Collar sought $15 million in compensatory damages plus unspecified punitives against the tobacco giants.
The two-week trial turned on whether Collar's smoking was driven by addiction. During closing arguments Wednesday, Collar’s attorney, Steven Hammer reminded jurors that medical documents over the years described Collar as suffering from “nicotine abuse” and “tobacco use disorder.” Hammer said “all of those things reflect nicotine addiction.”
Hammer also argued Wednesday that Collar’s smoking behavior bore the tell-tale signs of addiction. Hammer reminded jurors of evidence that Collar failed in more than 100 attempts to quit. He noted that her craving for nicotine was so powerful that she once smoked cigarette butts taken from a vacuum cleaner.
“This woman tried to quit. She was too addicted,” Hammer said. “She kept relapsing. And that is the sign of an addict.”
However, the defense argued that Collar chose to smoke out of enjoyment and despite knowing the dangers of cigarettes. During closings Wednesday, Shook, Hardy & Bacon’s William Geraghty, representing Philip Morris, reminded jurors of evidence that Collar ignored repeated warnings from friends and family to stop smoking. “Of course Miss Collar didn’t listen. She continued smoking no matter what anyone told her,” Geraghty said. “She was the kind of person that was going to smoke no matter what anyone said to her.”
Geraghty also reminded jurors of testimony from her treating pulmonologist, Dr. John Suen, who said Collar successfully quit smoking when she was motivated. “(Suen) probably knows her better than anybody you heard from in the course of this entire trial. He has no interest in the outcome of this case. And he told you Fannie Collar quit smoking when she was motivated to do so,” Geraghty said.
“And frankly, ladies and gentlemen, that’s all you really need to know to decide the issues in this case.”
The Collar case is one of thousands of similar lawsuits filed in Florida against the nation’s tobacco companies. The cases arise from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision decertifying Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a class-action tobacco case originally filed in 1994. Although the state’s high court ruled Engle cases must be tried individually, it found plaintiffs could rely on certain jury findings in the original verdict, including the determination that tobacco companies had placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and had hidden the dangers of smoking. To rely on those findings, individual Engle progeny plaintiffs such as Collar must prove the smoker’s addiction to cigarettes and a causal link between the addiction and a smoking-related disease.
Neither the parties’ attorneys nor representatives for the tobacco companies could be reached for comment.
Sheldon J. Schlesinger P.A.'s Steven Hammer and Jonathan Gdanski represent Fannie Collar. Jones Day's Mark Belasic represents R.J. Reynolds. Shook Hardy & Bacon's William Geraghty represents Philip Morris. Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman's Nancy Kaschel and Ann St. Peter-Griffith represent the Liggett Group.
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