Florida Record

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Mistrial declared in Philip Morris case; judge finds testimony prejudicial


By John Sammon | Apr 16, 2019

MIAMI – Judge Jose Rodriguez of the 11th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida declared a mistrial April 16 in a lawsuit filed by the estate of a deceased man whose relatives argue his premature death was caused by deadly nicotine addiction from the cigarettes produced by tobacco companies Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds.

The lawsuit sought compensation and punitive damage awards.

The trial, which began April 9, was streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.

In dismissing the jury, Rodriguez did not formally announce a reason for the mistrial decision but mentioned a prejudicing of defendant Philip Morris. 

“I want to rule on a mistrial,” Rodriguez told attorneys for the plaintiff and the defense. “After reading the transcript and case law and after listening to the argument and whether it was prejudicial to the defendant, the motion for a mistrial is granted.”

The estate of Harry Olsen, through his wife Rosemary Olsen, sued Philip Morris for the cardiovascular and coronary artery health problems that Olsen suffered, including a major stroke in the 1980s. The plaintiffs allege this was caused by his addiction to nicotine in cigarettes.

Olsen died in 2006.

The plaintiffs' lawyers, including Michael and Alex Alvarez of the Alvarez Law Firm of Coral Gables, said Olsen’s premature death was caused by the cigarette-makers who were liable for deliberately seeking to hide the truth, marketing what they knew to be a defective and dangerous product to make profits.

The attorney defending Philip Morris, Frank Kelly of the San Francisco law firm of Shook, Hardy & Bacon, maintained Olsen had plenty of knowledge about the dangers of smoking and chose to disregard it, absolving Philip Morris of responsibility for personal decisions Olsen made for himself.

Issues debated during the trial included allegations the tobacco companies engaged in a conspiracy to hide the truth of the dangers of smoking from the public beginning with a meeting among the top heads of tobacco companies at the Plaza Hotel in New York in 1953.

Prior to this, plaintiff witnesses had stated the tobacco company officials had no contact with each other because they were competitors, but changed their minds given the rising concerns and growing body of knowledge about the harmful impacts of smoking.

During this and other tobacco trials, attorneys representing Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds agreed cigarette smoking is a cause of cancer but said millions of people had made the decision to quit based on warnings and Olsen could have quit too.  

Witnesses called by Rosemary Olsen's attorneys included Robert Proctor, a professor of history and science of the tobacco industry at Stanford University.

Another issue in the trial was the discussion about allegedly harmful additives to tobacco.

The chemical ammonia was used to reconstitute or spike nicotine levels in tobacco by raising the pH level of nicotine molecules. This was called “freebasing.” The process raises the pH level and increases the impact of nicotine. Ammonia freebasing also reduced the harshness of cigarette smoke.

Proctor agreed that cigarettes without additives could still be addictive.

The trial was the second filed in a Florida court this month. The case from plaintiff Karla Zingaro in the 17th Judicial Circuit in Fort Lauderdale is in its third week.   

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Organizations in this Story

11th Judicial Circuit of Florida Philip Morris Co Inc

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