FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — (Mealey’s) Trial got under way Aug. 8 before Judge John Murphy of the Florida 17th Judicial Circuit Court for Broward County with the plaintiff’s opening statement in a suit by the family of a longtime smoker alleging that his death in March 2013 was caused by smoking cigarettes (Heather Irimi, et al. v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., et al., No. 2008-CV-026337, Fla. 17th Jud. Cir., Broward Co.).
(Click here to watch a video excerpt of plaintiffs’ attorney Scott Schlesinger’s opening statement.)
The suit alleges that Dale Moyer developed adenocarcinoma of the lung, emphysema and heart disease as a result of smoking cigarettes manufactured by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Lorillard Tobacco Co. and Liggett Group. Moyer, who was born in 1929, began smoking at age 8 and eventually smoked up to three packs a day. Moyer originally filed suit in 2008; his daughter, Heather Irimi, was substituted as plaintiff following his death.
The case is part of the Engle class action, which was decertified after trial by the Florida Supreme Court in 2006. Class members were permitted to pursue individual claims using factual findings from the trial (Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 [Fla. 2006] [enhanced opinion available to lexis.com subscribers]).
In a session lasting more than two hours, plaintiff attorney Scott P. Schlesinger of the Law Offices of Sheldon J. Schlesinger in Fort Lauderdale took jurors through the history of tobacco use beginning with the first use of loose tobacco leaves through mass production of cigarettes, the introduction of filters and the development of light cigarettes. He also detailed the history of claims of deleterious health effects of smoking and government and industry responses to those claims.
Schlesinger showed the jury numerous documents, including magazine advertisements from newspapers and magazines in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s; excerpts from tobacco industry press releases and reports; and summaries of internal tobacco industry documents provided by whistle-blowers and former industry employees. He urged the jury to consider “what folks knew back then,” referring to the 1930s-1960s, when he, said, “everyone smoked” and the tobacco companies placed “wall-to-wall ads.” He noted the lack of government regulation of smoking during those years and the use of celebrities, including actors and athletes — and Santa Claus — in advertising endorsing the use of cigarettes.
Schlesinger also showed clips of Moyer’s deposition, including statements that he switched, first, to filtered cigarettes for health reasons and, later, to light cigarettes because he “thought they were another step in the health direction.”
Schlesinger also told the jury about evidence he intends to produce about “secret meetings” among tobacco industry executives and the industry’s “conspiracy” to conceal the health effects of smoking.
Schlesinger’s statement was interrupted numerous times by objections from the defense, causing Judge Murphy to remind the jury of the nature of the opening statements and the need to consider only the evidence that is produced during actual testimony.
The defense opening statement was scheduled to get under way later in the day.
In addition to Schlesinger, Irimi is represented by Jonathan Gdanski and Steven Hammer of the Law Offices of Sheldon J. Schlesinger in Fort Lauderdale. Lorillard is represented by David Woods of Hughes Hubbard in Kansas City, Mo., and David Batista of Greenberg Traurig in Fort Lauderdale. Reynolds is represented by Kevin Boyce and Bradley Harrison of Jones Day in Cleveland. Liggett is represented by Maria Ruiz and Giselle Manseur of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman in Miami.
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