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Wrongful death trial begins in Mass. court against R.J. Reynolds, grocery store chain

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By Glenn Minnis | Mar 18, 2019


DEDHAM, Mass. (Legal Newsline) - Attorneys representing the estate of a Massachusetts nurse who smoked Newports and died of lung cancer seven years ago is arguing the tobacco industry is to blame, while defense attorneys say the woman never attempted to quit.

During opening arguments heard on the morning of March 14, attorney Andrew Rainer the Northeastern University School of Law's Public Health Advocacy Institute told a Superior Court of Massachusetts that Dawn O’Toole was the victim of “a dangerous cigarette design and a scheme to undermine evidence of smoking’s risks.”

The suit names R.J. Reynolds, maker of the Newport brand O’Toole smoked from the time she was a teenager, and New England grocery chain Big Y Foods, where she frequently made her purchases of them, as defendants. Filed on behalf of O’Toole’s daughter, Julie Lagadimas, the proceedings before Judge Elaine Buckley are being webcast gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.

“This case is basically about two things: a corporation that’s greedy and an addicted smoker,” Rainer added in an opening statement in which he sought to highlight how O’Toole came to be hooked on cigarettes for more than four decades. 

“The tobacco industry’s goal, through advertising, through a reassurance campaign, was to get customers for life. To get somebody addicted to their product who will keep using it their whole life.”

O’Toole, a longtime registered nurse with a background in respiratory therapy, continued smoking even after she officially joined the medical profession. She died of lung cancer in 2012 at 54 years old, leaving behind a husband, three children and a host of other relatives.  

Up until 2015, Rainer pointed out Newports were produced by Lorillard Tobacco Co., which he argued over the years “manipulated nicotine levels and added chemicals such as ammonia to make its cigarettes addictive as possible.”

Again, Rainer insisted that act alone is yet another irrefutable example of how driven cigarette makers can be when it comes to the lure of making a profit from their products.

“There was a safer alternative product, and a safer Newport, that they could have made,” he told jurors.

Rainer pointed to a long ago stored away company proposal to market a cigarette with ultra-low nicotine levels. 

“[Lorillard] actually considered making a safer product and decided not to,” he said.

Later, Rainer told the court even as all the clever and aggressive marketing campaigns about smoking worked in lockstep to seduce his client, the nicotine packed in Newports never stopped ravishing her body. He added all her attempts to give up smoking over the years, many of which came before she was ever diagnosed with cancer, ended in complete and utter failure.

During his opening argument, R.J. Reynolds' attorney Kevin D. Boyce, a partner with the Jones Day firm of New York, took issue with much of Rainer’s story, in particular when it came to his recount about all O’Toole’s desperate attempts to give up her smoking habit.  

“I don’t think you’ll see any evidence that Mrs. O’Toole even went 24 hours without smoking in the 40 years between 1970 and 2010,” he said.

Over time, he added O’Toole had more information about the long reported dangers of smoking than most by virtue of being a health care professional, and consciously made the decision to continue smoking all on her own accord.

“There will be no evidence in this case that Mrs. O’Toole did not know or understand the risks of smoking,” he added. “There won’t be any evidence that she was destined to become a life-long smoker, that this was preordained.”

The trial is expected to last about two weeks in the Superior Court of Massachusetts, Norfolk County.

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Jones Day Superior Court of Massachusetts, Norfolk County

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