Tampa, FL— Attorneys Wednesday debated why a Florida man continued to smoke for decades, including roughly a dozen years after he was diagnosed with respiratory disease, as trial opened against R.J. Reynolds over his death. Hancock v. R.J. Reynolds, 2009-CA-018859.
Jimmy Hancock started smoking as a teenager in the 1950s. He continued smoking up to two packs of cigarettes a day before quitting in 2006, 12 years after he was diagnosed with chronic obstructive respiratory disease, or COPD. He died of the disease in 2009. Hancock’s family contends his death was caused by addiction and Reynolds’ role in a conspiracy to hide the dangers of smoking through much of Hancock’s life.
During Wednesday’s opening statements, The Ruth Law Team’s Eric Roslansky previewed tobacco industry documents and other evidence he said would show Reynolds worked to hide the risks of smoking while engineering its cigarettes to addict smokers to nicotine.
Roslansky said Hancock was misled by Reynolds and became so hooked to cigarettes that he was unable to quit smoking for years, despite COPD so severe he needed supplemental oxygen to breathe.
“We believe the evidence is going to show that they did addict him to nicotine and that they lied to him the the whole time while they were doing it,” Roslansky said. “And, that they continued to do that and keep the information from him even after he was diagnosed with COPD.”
The lawsuit is one of thousands of so-called Engle-progeny cases, claims spun from a 1990s class action by Florida smokers against the nation’s tobacco companies. After a trial court verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, the Florida Supreme Court decertified the class, ruling individual plaintiffs could recover only if they proved the smoker at the heart of each case was addicted to cigarettes that caused a disease such as COPD.
However, Reynolds argues Hancock knew the dangers of cigarettes but chose to smoke for enjoyment, rather than because of addiction.
During Wednesday’s opening statements, Jones Day’s Bradley Harrison highlighted evidence he said showed Hancock made no concerted attempt to quit smoking before successfully quitting “cold turkey” in 2006.
Harrison said that Hancock ignored pleas from his family and others to quit smoking and he encouraged his daughter in her own attempt to quit, without joining her at the time.
"Mr. Hancock smoked for as long as he did because that’s what he wanted to do,” Harrison said. “For Mr. Hancock, quitting smoking was about making the choice to stop smoking, and nothing else.”
Trial in the case is expected to run through the middle of next week.
Email Arlin Crisco at [email protected].
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