In Vasko v. R.J. Reynolds, Plaintiff attorney Stuart Ratzan told the jury that John Vasko was born in 1941, started smoking at age 12, and smoked one-and-a-half to two packs of Lucky Strikes per day for 52 years, until he died of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).
“It’s going to be uncontroverted,” Mr. Ratzan told the jury, “that he smoked that much, and he smoked until he died. And he could never quit. Period…He started with a nicotine patch and tried to quit smoking cigarettes, and he couldn’t do it, and…he tried several more times with Wellbutrin or Zyban [Bupropion]…that is an anti-depressant that has the effect of countering nicotine addiction. He tries with the gum and the patches, and he can’t make it happen. He ultimately gets diagnosed with cancer and he smoked to the day he dies, he was diagnosed with lung cancer.”
According to Mr. Ratzan, there was no disagreement that Mr. Vasko died of COPD, and the COPD was caused by smoking. Phase 1 of the trial would determine whether Mr. Vasko was addicted, and whether the addiction was the legal cause of Mr. Vasko’s COPD.
Representing R.J. Reynolds, Jones Day’s Steve Geise told the jury that Mr. Vasko smoked due to choice — he did not even try to quit before the 1980′s. Even heavily addicted smokers can stop smoking if they want to, said Mr. Geise.
Moreover, the statute of limitations would bar Mr. Vasko’s recovery based on membership in the Engle-class because Mr. Vasko should have known on or before May 5, 1990, four years prior to the original Engle filing, that he had a smoking-related illness. According to Mr. Geis, Mr. Vasko had symptoms in the 1980′s that eventually led to a diagnosis of COPD, and which Mr. Vasko attributed to smoking.