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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla — (Mealey’s) A Florida woman who alleges that her laryngeal and lung cancer was caused by years of smoking cigarettes testified Aug. 22 that she made numerous attempts to quit but was unsuccessful until her laryngectomy made it physically impossible for her to smoke (Mary Cooper, et al. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., et al., No. CACE08026350X, Fla. Cir., 17th Cir., Broward Co.).
(Click here to watch a video excerpt of plaintiff Mary Cooper’s testimony on direct examination.)
Mary Cooper alleges that cigarettes manufactured by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Lorillard Tobacco Co. and Phillip Morris USA were “unreasonably dangerous” and caused her to develop cancer, which resulted in removal of her larynx. Liggett Group is also named as a defendant for its alleged participation in a conspiracy to conceal the health effects of smoking. Cooper began smoking at age 12 and eventually smoked two packs a day. She had polyps removed from her vocal cords in 1996, followed by a 1997 surgery to remove a cancerous lump in her neck, a laryngectomy in 2001 and bilateral lung surgery in 2004. She filed suit in December 2007.
A key issue in the case is Cooper’s membership in the Engle class of tobacco plaintiffs, a status that would allow her to rely on certain factual findings entered in the Engle suit, a class action lawsuit that was decertified after trial 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 class members to pursue individual claims using fact findings from the original trial. To qualify for the class, a plaintiff’s disease must have manifested before Nov. 21, 1996.
The tobacco companies have contended that Cooper was not addicted to cigarettes and that, therefore, she is not a member of the Engle class. Under questioning by Crane A. Johnstone of the Law Offices of Sheldon J. Schlesinger in Fort Lauderdale, Cooper said she tried to cut down on her smoking on her own, used Nicorette gum and attempted “several times” to “go cold turkey,” but was unsuccessful. She admitted that on the day of her laryngectomy, she had one final cigarette before entering the hospital for her surgery.
On cross-examination by Mark Belasic of Jones Day in Cleveland, representing R.J. Reynolds, Cooper acknowledged her awareness of the warnings on cigarette packages and warnings against smoking by other entities, including the American Cancer Society. She also admitted that she “could have tried harder” to quit, particularly after the 1996 polyps removal, but she was “so addicted by that time.”
In addition to Johnstone, Cooper is represented by Scott Schlesinger of the Law Offices of Sheldon J. Schlesinger in Fort Lauderdale. In addition to Belasic, Reynolds is represented by Dennis L. Murphy of Jones Day in Cleveland. Phillip Morris is represented by Stanley D. Davis of Shook Hardy & Baker in Kansas City, Mo. Lorillard is represented by Eliot Pedrosa of Greenberg Traurig in Miami. Liggett is represented by Kelly Luther of Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman in Miami.
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