Litigation

Florida Jury Hears Openings In Trial Of Suit Filed By Widower Of Longtime Smoker (Watch The Opening Argument Video Excerpts)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — (Mealey’s) Trial got under way in Florida state court on June 23 with opening statements in a suit alleging that a woman’s death from lung cancer and other smoking-related diseases was caused by her addiction to cigarettes (John McCoy, et al. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., et al., No. 2008-CV-025806 (19), Fla. 17th Jud. Cir., Broward Co.). 

Engle 

Plaintiff John McCoy alleges in a suit filed in the Florida 17th Judicial Circuit Court that the death of his wife, Glodine McCoy, was caused by lung cancer, peripheral vascular disease (PVD), coronary artery disease (CAD) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) related to her years of smoking.  

Glodine McCoy began smoking at age 13, smoking as much as a pack and a half a day.  She died in of lung cancer in July 1997 at age 70.  John McCoy alleges that his wife is a member of the Engle class, which was that was decertified after trial and a $145 billion verdict in 2006 by the Florida Supreme Court (Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 [Fla. 2006]) [enhanced opinion available to lexis.com subscribers].  The court allowed approximately 700,000 class members to pursue individual claims using findings of fact from the original Engle trial. 

Plaintiff’s Opening 

In his opening statement, Scott Schlesingthe Schlesinger Law Firm in Fort Lauderdale, representing McCoy, told the jury that the tobacco industry purposely misled the public about the dangers of smoking. 

(Watch a video excerpt of Schlesinger’s opening statement). 

“All along the way, tobacco at any time had the control and opportunity to come forth and tell the truth,” Schlesinger told the jury.  “It was their choice to do business the way they did it and conceal and confuse the true issue.  And that was their choice.”

‘An Illusion’ 

Schlesinger told the jury that Glodine McCoy relied to her detriment on the tobacco industry’s statements about the relative safety of filtered cigarettes in deciding to smoke Kent and Parliament brand cigarettes. 

“They were selling an illusion,” Schlesinger said.  “They knew that filter-cigarette smokers were getting every bit as much or more nicotine than they would get from a regular cigarette, but they abandoned the regular cigarette on the grounds of reduced risk to health.  This was the truth of what was really going on.” 

Defense Opening 

In his opening statement, Jeffrey Furr of  King and Spalding in Charlotte, N.C., representing R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., told the jury that the conditions from which Glodine McCoy suffered were not linked to her smoking or do not qualify her for inclusion in the Engle class.  

(Watch a video excerpt of Furr’s opening statement). 

Noting that GlodineMcCoy suffered a heart attack in the late 1980s, well before May 5, 1990, the trigger date for Engle-progeny cases, Furr said, “She believed it was related to her smoking because Mr. Schlesinger told you she quit smoking as a result” of the heart attack and resultant CAD.  That takes it outside the Engle qualifying diseases.” 

‘Risk Factors’ 

Further, Furr said, there is no evidence that Glodine McCoy’s PVD was linked to her smoking “because she had multiple other risk factors.”  With respect to her COPD, Furr said that medical records show that “she had the classic symptoms of COPD — cough and shortness of breath” in the 1980s.  She had “a ton of information that would have led her to know that she was developing COPD as a result of her smoking.  That also takes COPD outside the Engle class period.”  

Finally, Furr said, Glodine McCoy’s lung cancer manifested “too late for her to be a class member” and was diagnosed after the class period ended.   

Judge John Murphy is presiding.

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