Arguments open in suit against Philip Morris alleging conspiracy in man’s death from smoking

By John Sammon | Feb 12, 2019

MIAMI – Arguments began Monday in the trial to determine if a conspiracy to defraud the public by tobacco giant Philip Morris led to a man’s death from lung cancer in 1993.

The trial in the Dade County Courthouse is being streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.

A Florida man, Ulysee Holliman, died from lung cancer in 1993. The case is to determine if his smoking addiction and death were caused by an alleged campaign of deceit launched by Philip Morris as the plaintiff attorney contends, or if as the defense maintains, Holliman accepted the dangers of smoking.

To be decided will also be if Holliman is to become one of a group of Florida litigants called the “Engle Class” who originally launched a class action lawsuit against tobacco companies in 1994.

During opening remarks, plaintiff attorney Eric S. Rosen of the Fort Lauderdale law firm of Kelley/Uustal, said evidence would show his client smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for 40 years and that negligence by officials at Philip Morris caused his death.

“I’ll show you they (Philip Morris) did conceal information,” Rosen told a jury. “Philip Morris said smoking was not addictive.”

Rosen said the tobacco companies including Philip Morris had worked together developing a strategy to fool the public about the dangers of smoking including the use of filters on cigarettes to claim greater safety.

“You will learn about filter fraud during this trial,” Rosen said.

He outlined the history of smoking going back to the early 1900s when cigarettes were rare and most smokers smoked cigars or used tobacco snuff. Developments in producing cured tobacco making it easier to smoke and inhale as well as new cigarette rolling technology caused cigarette smoking to jump by the 1920s.

By the 1940s Rosen said massive advertising campaigns launched by the tobacco industry were targeting every segment of the American public.

Rosen equated attempts by tobacco companies to evade and cover up scientific evidence and growing concern about the dangers of smoking a “decades-long conspiracy.”

Warning labels were introduced on cigarette packages in the 1960s but Rosen said smoking continued to grow particularly among teens, called by tobacco companies the smokers of tomorrow.

Rosen told the jury they would decide if the company’s behavior had risen to the level justifying damages. He said evidence would be presented that showed the tobacco companies controlled nicotine levels resulting in addiction and also added harmful chemicals to cigarettes including ammonia. 

“The documents will show the modern cigarette was designed to further addiction and increase sales,” Rosen said.   

Walter Cofer with the Kansas City law firm of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, the attorney for Philip Morris, countered that Holliman was an intelligent man who knew smoking was dangerous but continued to smoke anyway.

“He (Holliman) made no attempt to quit in the 1960s and '70s,” Cofer told the jury. 

Cofer said family members related that Holliman enjoyed smoking and that it helped him deal with stress.

Cofer said if damages are awarded two kinds would be decided, economic and non-economic for example loss of society (lifestyle).

“The plaintiff’s burden is to prove the greater weight of the evidence,” he said.

The jury would decide if it would allow (Engle) class action membership for Holliman, and if fault and damages should be applied, Cofer noted.

Cofer said no one disputes that smoking is a cause of cancer and can become addictive, but is a lifestyle decision. Cigarettes remain a legal product to purchase and use.

“In this country the individual should decide for themselves,” he said.

He disputed what he said was the notion presented by the plaintiff attorney that additives in cigarettes (ammonia) made cigarettes more addictive and dangerous.

“Cigarettes are addictive because there is nicotine in it,” he said. “Just like whiskey because alcohol is in it. They (plaintiff attorney) have to prove the addiction was a legal cause of the cancer.”

Cofer said millions of Americans have made a decision to quit smoking, a decision they made on their own.

“We may or may not call witnesses,” he said, indicating that decision would depend on what evidence is presented by the plaintiff’s attorneys.

Cofer also disputed that filters on cigarettes were a fraud.

“There is no evidence he (Holliman) switched to filters because he thought they were safer,” he said.

Cofer said the tobacco industry had willingly withdrawn its advertising of cigarettes and asked the jury to put aside personal sympathy for Holliman’s family in favor of fairness.

“Nothing we do is to try and diminish their (family) loss,” he said

Judge Jose Rodriguez of the 11th  Judicial Circuit of Florida is presiding.  

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Phillip Morris Shook, Hardy, & Bacon Llp

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