Engle Trading Card Tuesdays: Flashback Part 3

September 30th, 2014  |  Published in Engle Litigation Trading Cards


 Because our Engle Trading Card Series has been so popular and we’ve been asked where to find our earlier, Series 1 cards, we’ll periodically revisit the subjects of our first set of cards and provide quick updates on their Engle litigation history.


 Card #2: Adam Trop

adam-trop-engle-trading-cardsmall

Adam Trop, who hasn’t tried any CVN Engle cases since we first issued this card back in 2011, remains one of the more successful plaintiff’s attorneys in Engle progeny proceedings, with an 80% win rate and an average award of more than $12 million.


 Card # 21: The Law Offices of Sheldon Schlesinger, P.A.

schlesinger-engle-trading-cardsmall

Since we issued this card, the Law Offices of Sheldon Schlesinger, P.A. cemented a place as one of the preeminent plaintiff’s firms in Engle progeny litigation. The firm boasts an 8-3 record with one mistrial through 12 total Engle trials.


 Card #22: Stephanie Parker

Stephanie-Parker-Engle-Trading-Cardsmall

Since her card was issued Stephanie Parker lost her only CVN Engle progeny trial, as Smith v. R.J. Reynolds concluded with a $30 million verdict before apportionment of fault. However, she has turned much of her Engle attention to federal cases, and won the first ever federal Engle progeny trial, 2012’s Gollihue v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co, et al.

Come back next Tuesday to learn who’ll be featured on our next Engle trading card.

 

Opening Statement of the Week: Stephen Kaczynski in Bryant v. R.J. Reynolds

September 29th, 2014  |  Published in Opening Statement of the Week, Trial Techniques


We open each week by featuring an outstanding opening statement from our on-demand library.

Stephen Kaczynski tells jurors “When you leave the courthouse after rendering a verdict… you still won’t know what (Howard Bryant’s cancer) cell type was!” as he emphasizes the lack of key medical evidence in Bryant v. R.J. Reynolds. Click here if you’re unable to view the clip above.


 

The Trial: Bryant v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. 

The Attorney: Stephen Kaczynski

While it’s important for a plaintiff’s attorney in a wrongful death trial to speak to a jury’s sympathies, it’s absolutely critical for defense attorneys to overcome those same natural sympathies toward the plaintiffs in order to prevail. Typically, that requires turning the jurors’ attention away from the heart-rending circumstances that surround the death at the heart of the case and force them to examine the evidence as objectively as possible. Stephen Kaczynski, representing R.J. Reynolds in Doris Bryant’s Engle progeny suit against the tobacco manufacturer, used a powerful opening statement to center jurors’ focus on the plaintiff’s potential Achilles heel, the lack of critical medical evidence.

Hayward Bryant, the deceased smoker at the heart of Bryant v. R.J. Reynolds, smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for decades before dying of lung cancer in 1996. However, most of the records related to Bryant’s cancer diagnosis and treatment had been destroyed as part of a medical center’s routine administrative cleanup. With his opening statement, Kaczynski used the dearth of medical evidence to overcome the emotional circumstances that naturally surround a terminal illness and break the jurors’ natural association between smoking and lung cancer. Kaczynski characterizes the case as being built on “guesswork” and “leaps of faith,” then highlights, item-by-item, the key medical information jurors would not see from the plaintiff.

Kaczynski also shows that an attorney can deliver a compelling opening statement from behind a lectern. His powerful delivery is highlighted with evocative language—describing the burden of proof as “rocks” on the scales of justice, for example—aimed to connect with jurors while emphasizing their duty to objectively weigh the evidence at hand.  It’s an opening statement that sets the stage for the jury’s verdict in favor of R.J. Reynolds.

 

Related information

Watch the openings of both parties in the Bryant case. 

Engle Progeny Review for the Week of September 22

September 26th, 2014  |  Published in Engle Progeny, Negligence, Tobacco Litigation

Each Friday we highlight the week’s Engle progeny tobacco trials and look ahead to next week.


In moving for a mistrial, defense attorney Jeffrey Furr says Dr. Shannon Miller’s comparison of smoking-related deaths to deaths in the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center were calculated to inflame the jury. Click here if you are unable to play the video above.


Pearl Morse v. R.J. Reynolds

Judge George Turner declared a mistrial Friday morning, one day after plaintiff’s addiction expert compared smoking-related deaths to deaths in the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.

On redirect examination shortly before the close of proceedings Thursday afternoon, Dr. Shannon Miller said the number of people who died prematurely from smoking-related disease each year is the “equivalent of three World Trade Centers,” prompting an immediate objection from defense counsel.

In moving for a mistrial this morning, Jeffrey Furr, representing R.J. Reynolds, said “There has not been a more traumatic event in the public consciousness of the country than the attacks on 9-11,” and argued that the comment was calculated to inflame jurors’ passions. Furr, who called Miller more advocate than expert, noted that a slide Miller had prepared referring to the World Trade Center attacks had previously been excluded.

“Not only did (Miller) violate the trial court’s rulings, he made it even worse.  He invoked the image of the World Trade Centers falling.”

Howard Acosta, representing plaintiff Pearl Morse, urged Judge Turner to withhold judgment and to determine whether the jury’s verdict rendered the point moot.

However, Judge Turner rejected Acosta’s argument. Judge Turner stated that there were still up to two more weeks of trial and that cases that withheld judgment on the point of judicial economy were typically nearer to closing than Morse.

Judge Turner noted that inappropriate references had been made by both parties to the suit, but that Miller’s reference, particularly in light of his background in psychiatry, may have been calculated to inflame the jury.

“We’re dealing with a psychiatrist here, and there could be a subliminal plant dealing with what he mentioned and what he knew not to mention ‘Twin Towers.’ So the subliminal plant deals with punishment,” Judge Turner said.

“There’s a correlation there that I can’t get beyond,” Judge Turner said, in granting the motion.

This is the second mistrial in the case, in which Pearl Morse is suing R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris for the lung cancer death of her husband Jay, a smoker for more than 40 years. In 2012, a mistrial was declared after a juror notified the judge that fellow jurors had predetermined their decision.


Bryant v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. 

The jury took less than two-and-a-half hours to deliberate before rendering a verdict for R.J. Reynolds Friday afternoon. The six-member panel answered “no” to the two-part question of whether Hayward Bryant was addicted to cigarettes and whether that addiction caused his fatal lung cancer.

Legal causation was a central point of dispute throughout trial, in part because key medical records, including lab work analyzing Bryant’s lung cancer, had been destroyed since Bryant’s death in 1996.  During closing arguments Friday morning, Doris Bryant’s attorney John”Hutch” Pinder reminded jurors that Bryant’s death certificate listed lung cancer as his cause of death and that a finding of legal cause required only that they determine Bryant’s addiction to smoking was a “substantial” cause of his lung cancer.

“When you take all the evidence and you put it all together, your common sense tells you that Hayward Bryant had a primary (cancer) of the lung caused by smoking,” Pinder said.

However, Harold Gordon, representing R.J. Reynolds, told jurors there was insufficient evidence to tie Bryant’s smoking to his cancer. “The absence of vital medical records here is nothing short of stunning,” Gordon said. “The complete absence of any pathology or medical records concerning Mr. Bryant’s cancer diagnosis and treatment leaves us with nothing but pure speculation and guesswork,” Gordon said. “Not the hard rock or bricks of evidence that the plaintiff needs to tilt the scales and satisfy her burden of proof.”


Lourie v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., et al. 

Smoking was “ubiquitous” throughout Barbara Ruth Lourie’s life and ultimately led to her death at 52, according to Brent Bigger, the attorney for Jim Laurie, in opening statements Friday morning.

Jim Laurie is suing R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris, and Lorillard Tobacco Company, claiming that his wife Barbara Ruth Laurie’s 40 years of smoking caused the lung cancer that metastasized to her brain and ultimately killed her in 1996. In opening statements, Bigger described Barbara Laurie as an addicted smoker who was unsuccessful in numerous attempts to quit, and who continued smoking while battling cancer.

“Smoking controlled her life,” Bigger said. “Her sons and her husband remember vividly seeing her 40 pounds underweight, scarred head, still shamefully embarrassed that she can’t quit smoking, having a cigarette. It’s the picture of addiction.”

Joseph Fasi, representing Philip Morris, told jurors that there were too many questions, caused largely by the lack of medical records available in the case, to link Barbara Laurie’s smoking to her cancer. Fasi also told jurors that testimony would show Barbara Laurie enjoyed smoking, chose to smoke, and that the tobacco manufacturers should not be held responsible for her decision to smoke.

“You’re going to hear that (Jim) Laurie said to us that ‘Of course she enjoyed smoking. Why else would she have kept doing it?'” Fasi said. “Mrs. Laurie lived her life the way she wanted to live and she made informed choices that carried risks,” Fasi said.

Next week: Plaintiff’s case in chief will continue.

 

Physician Says Engle Progeny Suit Smoker Died Because of Nicotine Addiction

September 25th, 2014  |  Published in Engle Progeny, Tobacco Litigation

 

Plaintiff's addiction expert, Dr. Shannon Miller, testifies that Jay Morse was severely addicted to nicotine and that  his addiction ultimately caused his smoking-related death. Morse's widow Pearl is suing R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris in this Engle progeny case.

Plaintiff’s addiction expert, Dr. Shannon Miller, testifies that Jay Morse was severely addicted to nicotine and that his addiction ultimately caused his smoking-related death. Morse’s widow Pearl is suing R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris in this Engle progeny case. Click here to view trial footage.


Viera, FL— In his second day of testimony, an expert on nicotine addiction told jurors that Jay Morse, the deceased smoker at the center of this Engle progeny tobacco suit, was severely addicted to cigarettes throughout his 40-plus years of smoking and that his addiction ultimately caused the cancer that killed him. Pearl Morse v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. 

Dr. Shannon Miller, a specialist in addiction medicine, told jurors that Morse bore many of the hallmarks of addiction, including irritability when he attempted to reduce or quit smoking. Miller noted that Morse would leave movies and family events such as his son’s christening in order to smoke, and testified that if he had not smoked he likely would not have developed terminal lung cancer.

“If (Morse) wasn’t smoking, he’d probably…, in the absence of lung cancer that is, be walking this Earth,” Miller said.

Jay Morse died from lung cancer in 1995 after more than 40 years of smoking at least two packs of cigarettes a day. Morse’s widow, Pearl Morse, is suing R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris Tobacco Co, claiming that their scheme to hide the dangers of smoking while intentionally producing cigarettes with nicotine led to Jay Morse’s addiction and the lung cancer that killed him.

Morse ’s addiction to nicotine is an essential element to the suit’s inclusion in the Engle class of cases. However, the tobacco manufacturers contend that Morse smoked by choice and not because of addiction. On cross examination, Miller acknowledged that, despite the fact that Jay Morse claimed to want to quit smoking, he never threw away his cigarettes and never attended a smoking cessation clinic.

Morse is a retrial of a 2012 proceeding that was declared a mistrial after a juror claimed that other members of the jury had predetermined a verdict. The suit is one of thousands of Florida’s Engle progeny, which stem from a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision decertifying Engle v. Liggett Group Inc., a class-action tobacco suit originally filed in 1994. Although the state’s supreme court ruled cases must be tried individually, it found each case’s plaintiffs could rely on certain jury findings in the original case, including the determination that tobacco companies had placed a dangerous, addictive product on the market and had conspired to hide the dangers of smoking. However, individual Engle progeny plaintiffs must prove a causal link between an addiction to smoking and their health problems in order to be entitled to the original case’s findings.

Related Information

Watch live and on-demand coverage of Morse.

 

Las Vegas Jury Awards $4.5M in Ford Roof Crush Rollover Suit

September 24th, 2014  |  Published in Negligence, Products Liability

Judge Valerie Adair addresses jurors before they deliver their $4.5M verdict in a rollover suit against Ford.

Judge Valerie Adair addresses jurors before they deliver their $4.5M verdict in a rollover suit against Ford. Click here to view on-demand coverage of the trial. 


Las Vegas—Jurors awarded the widow of a Ford SUV passenger $4.5 million in her suit stemming from a 2009 rollover crash that killed her husband and crushed the vehicle’s roof.

The jury, which began deliberations late Monday, returned a verdict Tuesday afternoon finding that the roof of the 2000 Ford Excursion SUV in which Rafael Trejo died was defectively designed. The award to Rafael Trejo’s widow Teresa included $2.5 million for loss of income, $1.5 million for grief and sorrow, and $500,000 for Rafael Trejo’s pain and suffering before his death.

Rafael Trejo died in a single vehicle rollover accident that crushed the roof of the Ford Excursion SUV in which he was a seatbelted passenger. Rafael’s wife, Teresa Trejo sued Ford for $27 million, claiming that the roof was not strong enough to support the weight of the vehicle, which was the heaviest production SUV in North America while it was manufactured.  Plaintiff, represented by Jody Mask, claimed that the roof’s collapse fractured Rafael’s neck, pinning him inside the vehicle and suffocating him.

However, Ford, represented by Vaughn Crawford, argued that the SUV’s roof was properly designed and that, in any event, the roof-crush did not kill Rafael Trejo. Ford claimed Trejo died from a “diving injury,” when the rollover crash slammed Rafael’s head against the vehicle’s roof, fracturing his neck and killing him, before the roof collapsed. During closing statements, Crawford criticized the testimony of plaintiff’s experts as “courtroom engineering” that ignored the motion of Rafael’s body within the vehicle as the SUV rolled over. “Do you think that if some testing would have proven any of (plaintiff’s) arguments… do you think you would have seen the testing by plaintiffs?” Vaughn asked jurors. “Let’s not check common sense at the door when we go back to deliberate.”

In his closing statement, Mask reminded jurors that Dr. Ross Zumwalt, who performed the autopsy on Rafael Trejo,testified that Rafael did not have a skull fracture or brain swelling that would indicate that his head struck SUV’s roof during the rollover. “Ford’s trying to sell you a diving theory,” Mask said. “That’s not what happened in this case.”

Mask also reminded jurors of evidence that Ford never physically tested the safety of the Excursion’s roof before selling it, and that Ford’s computer testing showed that the Excursion did not meet Ford’s roof-strength requirements for lighter-weight vehicles. which he claimed led to Rafael Trejo’s death. “Ford stuck their head in the sand before the ever put this vehicle on the road,” Mask said.

“If you think that a 5’4″ man should be able to walk away from a 27 mile-an-hour crash, you will return a verdict for Ms. Trejo,” Mask said.

 

Engle Trading Card Tuesday: Steven Hammer

September 23rd, 2014  |  Published in Engle Litigation Trading Cards

Each Tuesday we issue a new Engle trading card featuring an attorney, trial, or firm from Florida’s Engle progeny tobacco cases. Our exclusive cards provide a light-hearted way to track important statistics through eight years of  this landmark tobacco litigation.


 Steven Hammer

Steven Hammer, who tries Engle cases with the Law Offices of Sheldon J. Schlesinger, is featured on our Engle Trading Card this week.

Steven Hammer, who tries Engle cases with the Law Offices of Sheldon J. Schlesinger, carries an 8-2 record, with no mistrials in more than five years of Engle trials. 


Steven Hammer carries an impressive 80% win rate through 10 Engle trials.

The jury in Hammer’s first Grossman trial awarded $1.93 million, the lowest of his eight career Engle wins. Notably, the jury in that trial found deceased smoker Laura Grossman’s husband Jan, the case’s plaintiff, partially responsible.  However, the Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed the decision after finding the trial court erred in placing Jan on the verdict form to apportion comparative fault for buying Laura cigarettes. On retrial, Hammer won a $37.85 million verdict for his client, which is second only to his monumental $75.35 million win in Calloway.

Come back next Tuesday when we release another Engle card.

Opening Statement of the Week: Willie Gary in Robinson v. R.J. Reynolds

September 22nd, 2014  |  Published in Opening Statement of the Week, Trial Techniques

We open the week each Monday by featuring an outstanding opening statement from our on-demand library.

Willie Gary shouts “You don’t get a right to kill people and then turn around and blame them!” in his fiery opening statement in Robinson v. R.J. Reynolds. His opening in the Engle progeny case set the stage for the jury’s $23.6 billion verdict. Click here if you have problems viewing the clip above. 


The Trial: Robinson v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

The Attorney: Willie Gary

A strong opening statement introduces you and your case to the jury, laying the foundation for the evidence you’ll introduce in the trial ahead. While these are all critical pieces of a winning opening, many attorneys give an understated, rote outline of the case to come, wasting this first, best opportunity to speak to jurors’ hearts as well as their minds.

In Robinson v. R.J. Reynolds, Willie Gary turns the decision in this Engle progeny lawsuit into a moral imperative for the jury. His fiery oratory hammers at the difference between a corporation and its customers, admonishing the jury that it must hold a corporation to its duty to the public. Gary’s fist-pumping indignation at the wrongs he claims have been done to his client aims to grab jurors by the heartstrings and have them nodding their heads in agreement, long before he begins to actually outline the evidence he says will support his case.

A fervent opening statement can cross the line into improper argument, and Willie Gary’s speaking style isn’t for everyone. But Gary is a master of mixing oratorical fire and facts, and in this case it set jurors along the road to awarding the largest single verdict ever in an Engle suit.

Related Information:

Watch Willie Gary’s entire opening statement in Robinson

Watch each of our Opening Statements of the Week.

 

Engle Progeny Review for the Week of September 15

September 19th, 2014  |  Published in Engle Progeny

Each Friday we highlight the week’s Engle progeny tobacco trials, cases in the news, and look ahead to next week.

Dr. Allan Goldman testifies that he believes Hayward Bryant's smoking caused his lung cancer, but acknowledges that he was unable to review medical information including pathology reports and documentation of Bryant's cancer cell type.

Dr. Allan Goldman testifies that he believes Hayward Bryant’s smoking caused his lung cancer, but acknowledges that he was unable to review medical information including pathology reports and documentation of Bryant’s cancer cell type. Click here to view the testimony.

Bryant v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

Trial opened Wednesday in Doris Bryant’s suit seeking damages for the 1996 lung cancer death of her husband Hayward Bryant. Openings made clear that the case may turn on the sufficiency of medical evidence. Many key medical records, including cancer biopsy results and information on Bryant’s cancer cell type, had been destroyed as part of routine records administration by the medical center that treated Bryant. RJR’s attorney, Stephen Kaczynski, told jurors that the medical evidence is insufficient to link Hayward Bryant’s smoking to his lung cancer. Conversely, Doris Bryant’s attorney, John “Hutch” Pinder, said expert medical testimony would provide the proof needed to establish that Bryant’s 39-plus-year smoking habit caused his lung cancer.

Kenneth Cummings, an expert on nicotine addiction and tobacco industry practices, led off plaintiff’s case in chief, detailing the progression of nicotine addiction and its effect on the brain. Cummings said he believed Hayward Bryant was “heavily addicted” to cigarettes, based on his persistent smoking and the fact that he failed in several attempts to quit smoking before his lung cancer diagnosis. Cummings also testified R.J. Reynolds and the tobacco industry at-large engaged in a long-term, comprehensive scheme to conceal the dangers of smoking.

On Friday morning, Dr. Allan Goldman, an internist and expert on lung disease, testified that available medical records showed Bryant suffered from primary lung cancer as opposed to a cancer that may have developed elsewhere. Goldman also testified that he believed, based on a CT scan of Bryant, a pathology inventory, and Bryant’s long history of smoking, that cigarettes caused Bryant’s cancer. On cross examination, however, Goldman acknowledged the lack of pathology reports, tissue samples, and other medical evidence to analyze Bryant’s disease.

Next week: The plaintiff will continue with its case in chief.


Morse v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

Attorneys gave opening statements Monday in the retrial of a 2012 proceeding CVN covered. Howard Acosta, attorney for Pearl Morse, told jurors that her husband Jay Morse’s 50 years of smoking Camel brand cigarettes led to his fatal lung cancer. Acosta said “the nature of (the tobacco) business is to addict people to nicotine” and that Jay Morse’s two-pack-a-day habit  was a “death by a thousand cuts” that he was unable to avoid because of his addiction.

Conversely, R.J. Reynolds attorney Jeffrey Furr told jurors that Jay Morse knew the dangers of smoking throughout his life, yet chose to smoke and refused to listen to family members who urged him to quit.  Furr also said that Jay Morse died from cancer because he did not have appropriate lung tests performed that would have diagnosed his disease as early as 1991. Instead Morse’s cancer was not officially diagnosed until 1994. He died from the disease in 1995.

Witness testimony throughout the week focused largely on Louis Kyriakoudes, a University of Southern Mississippi professor who testified about the tobacco industry’s marketing practices, its reliance on the addictiveness of nicotine to sell cigarettes, and the its attempts to conceal cigarettes’ health dangers.

Next week: Plaintiff will continue into the second week of its case. The defense is expected to begin its case in chief as early as the end of next week.

 

In $27M Suit Against Ford, Defense Expert Testifies Roof Crush Did Not Kill SUV Passenger

September 18th, 2014  |  Published in Products Liability

 

Jarrod Carter, an expert in biomechanics, tells jurors that Rafael Trejo broke his neck when his head was thrown into the roof of an SUV as it rolled over. Rafael's widow Teresa is suing Ford, claiming a design defect caused its vehicle's roof to crush killing her husband.

Jarrod Carter, an expert in biomechanics, tells jurors that Rafael Trejo broke his neck when his head was thrown into the roof of an SUV as it rolled over. Rafael’s widow Teresa is suing Ford, claiming a design defect caused its vehicle’s roof to crush killing her husband. Click here to view the video. 


Las Vegas—Ford Motor Company’s expert in biomechanics testified that Rafael Trejo died when his body “dove” into the roof of an SUV during a rollover crash and not because the vehicle’s roof was crushed, as Ford continued its defense Wednesday in a wrongful death suit.

Rafael Trejo fractured his cervical spine and died in a 2009 Ford Excursion SUV crash. Trejo’s widow Teresa is suing Ford, claiming that a design defect caused the vehicle’s roof to crush when it rolled over, pinning Rafael Trejo inside and suffocating him.

However, defense witness Jarrod Carter, a biomechanical analyst, rejected plaintiff’s contention. Carter testified that Rafael’s spine would not have been broken if his head had been pushed down toward his chest, as plaintiff contends. “If you’re putting (the neck) in flexion, you can stand on my head and put it through my chest, and you’re still not going to create a cervical spine injury,” Carter said.

Instead, Carter testified that he believed that Rafael Trejo fractured his neck in a “diving” injury, in which Trejo’s body rolled with the movement of the vehicle and his head collided with the SUV’s roof before it was crushed. Carter said vehicle and biomechanical experiments indicate that the collision of the head in diving, rather than roof crush, causes spinal fractures similar to Trejo’s. Leading jurors through a series of animations and crash photos, Carter also testified that SUV’s damage didn’t support the finding that Trejo had been pinned in the vehicle.

Carter’s opinion is at odds with that of Joseph Peles, a biomechanics engineer and plaintiff’s expert witness, who testified last Thursday that the wreckage of Trejo’s SUV seat, combined with damage to the roof and wall of the vehicle, proved Trejo’s head and neck had been pinned by the roof’s collapse in the rollover. Carter also testified that he believed that the rollover pinned Rafael Trejo between the seat bottom and the roof, bending his neck at an extreme angle and fatally cutting off his airway.

Teresa Trejo is seeking $27 million in the suit. The trial is expected to continue through the week.

Related Information

Watch live and on-demand coverage of Trejo v. Ford. 

Read In Vehicle Rollover Trial, Expert Criticizes Ford’s Roof Safety Testing.

 

Attorneys Argue Whether Medical Evidence Proves Cause of Smoker’s Deadly Lung Cancer as Engle Progeny Suit Opens

September 17th, 2014  |  Published in Engle Progeny, Tobacco Litigation

R.J. Reynolds attorney Steve Kazinski tells jurors there is insufficient medical evidence to prove that smoking caused Hayward Bryant's lung cancer. Bryant's widow is suing R.J. Reynolds in this Engle progeny case.

R.J. Reynolds attorney Stephen Kaczynski tells jurors there is insufficient medical evidence to prove that smoking caused Hayward Bryant’s lung cancer. Click here to view opening statements in Bryant v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

 


Tampa, FL—As trial opened in this Engle progeny suit against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., opposing counsel debated whether there was enough medical evidence to find that smoking cigarettes caused the cancer that killed 59-year-old Hayward Bryant.

Hayward Bryant’s widow, plaintiff Doris Bryant, claims that R.J. Reynolds’s decades-long scheme to conceal the dangers of smoking, while simultaneously controlling the level of nicotine in cigarettes, led to Hayward Bryant’s cigarette addiction and his death from lung cancer in 1996. During his opening statement, John “Hutch” Pinder, Doris Bryant’s attorney, acknowledged that key medical records concerning Bryant’s cancer had been destroyed by a medical center. However, Pinder detailed Hayward Bryant’s 38-plus-year smoking habit and told jurors they would hear expert testimony that would establish that Bryant’s smoking caused his lung cancer.  “When you walk through the courtroom doors… we don’t ask you to leave your common sense at the door. You bring it with you,” Pinder said. “Your common sense will tell you that (Hayward Bryant’s) addiction to nicotine, from smoking cigarettes, was the cause of his lung cancer.”

However, R.J. Reynolds attorney Stephen Kaczyinski told jurors that the lack of medical evidence raised too many questions for Doris Bryant to prove her case. “There are huge gaps in plaintiff’s proof that you’re going to be asked to fill by guesswork and leaps of faith,” Kaczynski said. “No CSI (television show) script would ever be written based on what you’ll see here.”

Kaczynski told jurors that a key element to determining whether Bryant’s cancer was caused by his smoking, the disease’s cell type, is one of many unknown issues in the case. “When you walked through the doors of this courthouse on Monday morning, you had no idea what the cell type is in this case. When you leave the courthouse after rendering the verdict in a few weeks, you still won’t know what the cell type was,” Kaczynski said.

Kaczynski also told jurors that Bryant knew smoking was dangerous, yet smoked up to 2 packs of cigarettes a day by choice rather than because of addiction. “There was widespread publicity about the risks” of smoking, Kaczynski said. “At the end of the day, the choices that resulted were choices he made for reasons that were good and sufficient to him. And these choices, not any addiction, were the legal cause… of his death.”

By contrast, Pinder detailed internal tobacco industry documents in which R.J. Reynolds appears to know of the addictiveness and dangers of smoking, while engaging in efforts to conceal that knowledge from the general public.  “Every Winston (cigarette Bryant) ever smoked contained nicotine that was addictive. Every single one of those cigarettes causes lung cancer,” Pinder said. Yet R.J. Reynolds “manufactured their cigarettes to be addictive, and they lied about it every day of Hayward Bryant’s life.”

The trial is expected to last through the month.

Related Information

View live and on-demand coverage of Bryant v. R.J. Reynolds.