Weingart v. R.J. Reynolds (West Palm Beach, Florida)
Searcy Denny’s Jack Hill and Hardee Bass take on Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, and Lorillard in this Engle-progeny tobacco trial.
In his opening statement, Hardee Bass (Searcy Denney) told the jury, “This is a case about deceit. It’s about a promise that an industry — the cigarette industry — made to a generation of people. The World War II generation…It’s about the lies they told to that generation of smokers. And it’s about the truth they kept hidden from that generation of smokers.”
“It’s also a case about addiction,” Mr. Bass continued, “and particularly addiction to nicotine found in cigarettes. A drug. An addictive drug that the Surgeon General of the United States has deemed as addictive as heroin and cocaine.”
“And it’s also a case about how those two — the deceit of the cigarette industry, and the addictive nature of nicotine — it’s about how those two combined to cause the death of Claire Weingart. Members of the jury, Claire Weingart was born December 13, 1923, and had she not suffered an over fifty-year addiction to nicotine and cigarettes she would not have died prematurely at the age of seventy-three in November of 1997. And her husband Jerry Weingart — of 54 years — would not have spent his golden years without her.”
Representing Philip Morris, Ken Reilly (Shook Hardy Bacon) told the jury, “We know what the plaintiffs have admitted regarding Claire’s own decisions and the role they played in her developing her lung cancer. So now the question is did anybody else have a role — a legal cause role — in her developing her cancer and dying…Is anybody else in the mirror, when Mrs. Weingart looks in the mirror and decides whether she’s going to smoke today or not. It’s as simple as that.”
“Smoking has literally always come with critics. Always,” said Mr. Reilly. “And people have referred to smoking and smokers as addicts. Not beginning in the 40′s or the 50′s or some secret that the tobacco industry knew…Go back a hundred years…People have talked about being addicted to tobacco for a hundred and fifty years. Two hundred years…In fact, Christopher Columbus complained that his sailors — when he was bringing tobacco back to Spain — that his sailors wouldn’t stop smoking…tobacco…People have described nicotine and tobacco as a drug for a hundred years.”
Representing Lorillard, Justus Reid (Reid & Zobel) reviewed for the jurors the many warnings Ms. Weingart had that smoking was dangerous from her friends and her physicians, and suggested that the evidence would show not that Ms. Weingart was unable to quit, but that she did not want to quit. Mr. Reid also suggested that there was not a great deal of evidence of Ms. Weingart’s smoking a Lorillard brand, Kent.
Representing R.J. Reynolds, Jonathan Engram (Womble Carlyle) cautioned the jury that the cigarette advertisements that might be shown during the trial were not remarkable in that they intended to convince people to smoke a tobacco company’s branded products, which was no different from how soft drink or fast food ads try to attract customers. Morever, there would be no evidence, said Mr. Engram, that cigarette advertising influenced Ms. Weingart’s behavior.
Finally, said Mr. Engram, the words “secret” and “confidential” on internal tobacco company documents simply reflected a desire to keep information safe from competitors, for the same reason that Pepsi doesn’t know Coke’s formula, and Popeye’s doesn’t know the Colonel’s secret recipe of eleven herbs and spices. “They are competitors, and they guard their manufacturing processes as part of doing business, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” said Mr. Engram.