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Tobacco trial underway in Historic Courthouse

Testimony in tobacco trial — During a break in the trial, Judge Dennis Craig of the 7th Judicial Circuit talks to expert witness Robert N. Proctor Nov. 9 in the Volusia County Historic Courthouse. The case, Quackenbush v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., came out of a massive class-action suit that went to the Florida Supreme Court, where the court’s ruling resulted in class members — plaintiffs who had filed together in the class-action suit — filing thousands of individual lawsuits against cigarette manufacture

Testimony in tobacco trial — During a break in the trial, Judge Dennis Craig of the 7th Judicial Circuit talks to expert witness Robert N. Proctor Nov. 9 in the Volusia County Historic Courthouse. The case, Quackenbush v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., came out of a massive class-action suit that went to the Florida Supreme Court, where the court’s ruling resulted in class members — plaintiffs who had filed together in the class-action suit — filing thousands of individual lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers.

BEACON PHOTO/ERIKA WEBB

A lawsuit against tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. has generated unusual activity at the Volusia County Historic Courthouse in Downtown DeLand.

Some onlookers wondered what was going on in the old justice center, now home to the Volusia County Elections Office and the county’s Fire Services administration.

These days, trials are rarely in session there. 

Across the street from the Historic Courthouse, next to the old jail, parking spaces were reserved for jurors. 

Jury selection began Nov. 6; opening statements and evidence were presented Nov. 8 in a civil lawsuit filed by a Deltona resident against the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

The plaintiff, Kathleen Marie Quackenbush, is personal representative for the estate of her late husband, Robert Quackenbush.

He died from lung cancer in 1998. He was 49. 

“The case had been part of a massive class-action lawsuit against the tobacco companies by smokers claiming damages for lung cancer and other problems related to cigarette smoking,” explained Ludmilla Lelis, spokeswoman for the 7th Judicial Circuit, which includes Volusia County. 

“In the course of the litigation, it was ruled that the original plaintiffs would have to prove their cases individually if they wanted individual damages,” Lelis said.  

Kathleen Quackenbush is represented by William Ogle of the Daytona Beach-based Ogle Law Firm. 

The primary attorney for R.J. Reynolds is listed as Troy A. Fuhrman of the Hill Ward Henderson Law Firm in Tampa, according to Lelis. 

Circuit Judge Dennis Craig is presiding. 

During the afternoon session Nov. 9, a witness for the plaintiff, Stanford University professor Robert N. Proctor, shared a timeline illustrating the link between mass production of cigarettes, starting in the United States in the early 1900s, and the occurrence of smoking-related illnesses.

“There were only 140 cases of lung cancer in published literature before 1900,” Proctor said.

He said in the early 1920s, doctors diagnosing a rare case of the disease would tell students, “Look, you may never see another case of lung cancer again.”

In 1913, he said, the Camel brand introduced the first modern cigarette with “a distinctive blend that R.J. Reynolds came up with.”

“Camel brought on cigarettes as the fast food of the tobacco industry,” Proctor explained, adding that in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, smoking — and incidences of lung cancer — skyrocketed. 

Proctor pointed to three primary reasons. 

Before 1932, he said, it was unusual to smoke cigarettes.

Aspects of a particular curing process — derived from the Orient — made them inhalable. 

And, mass-marketing successfully appealed to the masses. 

The tobacco trial was expected to last more than two weeks, according to Lelis, who also explained the venue choice.

“The trial is being held at the Historic Courthouse because our judges were interested in using that room for court, but after the restorations and other changes in the building, the courtroom is most suitable for civil court, rather than criminal court,” she wrote. “Also, being able to hold a lengthy civil jury trial there means we’re not having to tie up another courtroom.”

— Erika Webb, erika@beacononlinenews.com


Engle Progeny

In 2006, the Florida Supreme Court decertified a massive class-action lawsuit initially filed in 1994 by a Miami Beach pediatrician named Howard Engle for injuries suffered because of the health effects of smoking.

This ruling, and special procedural advantages granted by the court, resulted in former class members filing thousands of individual lawsuits against cigarette manufacturers stating that cigarettes caused their respective illnesses.

The suits have created a constant stream of trials in Florida’s state and federal courts, resulting in jury verdicts for the plaintiffs in the majority of cases and, with those verdicts, a string of appeals over a variety of legal issues these cases present. Although a settlement of the cases in federal court was announced, the state court trials are slated to go on for decades.

— From the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium’s overview of the Engle v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. litigation and its aftermath, posted at www.publichealthlawcenter.org

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