FORT LAUDERDALE – Defense attorneys in the trial of a woman suing cigarette makers Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds argued Tuesday that is was the plaintiff’s problems including depression, anxiety and possible bipolar disorder that led Karla Zangaro to compulsively smoke, causing her health problems.
“Why is this lady smoking for decades?” asked Ken Riley the defense attorney for Philip Morris. “The witness already indicated she smoked to deal with anxiety and depression. This is the heart of the case.”
Riley referred to plaintiff expert witness Dr. David Burns, a San Diego pulmonologist and former professor with the University of San Diego School of Medicine.
Coverage of the trial in the 17th Judicial Circuit Florida Court is being streamed live courtesy of Courtroom View Network.
Zingaro and her husband Robert are suing Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds for the lung cancer and emphysema suffered by the woman saying the companies are liable for the addictive nature of the cigarettes they sold and should pay compensatory and punitive damages.
Zingaro, 65, started smoking as a teenager and continued smoking up to two packs of cigarettes a day for 40 years. She attempted to quit repeatedly to no avail but finally was able to quit in 2009 after using an E-cigarette, an electronic device that delivers nicotine to the brain without the chemical compounds in a normal cigarette.
She was diagnosed with lung cancer and received radiation treatments, then a second time when the cancer reoccurred. She also suffers from emphysema and greatly reduced breathing function.
Plaintiff attorneys are accusing the cigarette companies of engaging in a conspiracy to deceive the public that gained momentum after top tobacco company executives met to coordinate efforts at the Plaza Hotel in New York in 1953. They contended the campaign of deception continued almost up to the present day, and that the companies knowingly marketed a defective, harmful product for profits.
Defense attorneys argue that Zingaro knew the dangers of smoking as millions of others who quit smoking did, and smoked anyway, so bears responsibility for her own health problems.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Riley asked Burns if he had been a frequent witness for plaintiffs in tobacco trials over the past several years.
“You have made just shy of $5 million against cigarette companies in civil litigation, correct?” Riley asked.
Burns said more than $4.5 million over the past 35 years.
“You charge $4,800 per day?” Riley asked.
“That’s correct,” Burns said.
Burns agreed total work on the present trial came to about $50,000.
Riley asked Burns if he had participated in mock (practice) trials for the purpose of seeing how he would be perceived by a jury?
“It was to see how the scientific concepts could be best presented,” Burns explained.
Riley focused in on behavioral conditions Zingaro was alleged to have in addition to heavy smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and compulsive over-shopping.
“In her (Zingaro’s) deposition she said she had two to three drinks on a daily basis,” Riley said.
“Yes, the question is when it (drinking) got out of control and I don’t have an answer to that,” Burns said.
“Is it your opinion she had bipolar disorder?”
“I don’t believe there is enough information to establish if she had bipolar disease,” Burns said. “There were physicians who made that diagnosis or raised it as a possibility.”
Riley touched on Zingaro’s high school boyfriend who was reportedly also a smoker.
“I did not review her relationship history,” Burns said.
Burns agreed Zingaro had begun smoking at age 15 in 1969, at first sneaking her mother’s cigarettes, then the following year openly smoked in front of her parents.
“They (parents) accepted it (smoking) at that time,” Burns said.
Riley said in deposition testimony that Zingaro stated it had not mattered to her if there was a label on cigarette packs warning that smoking could be hazardous, and later label warnings from the U.S. Surgeon General. She smoked anyway.
“That’s correct,” Burns said.
“She (Zingaro) started smoking because she thought it was a cool thing to do,” Riley said.
“Yes,” Burns responded.
Zingaro’s husband was also a smoker.
Riley asked if there are smokers who smoke daily who are not addicted.
“There are occasional people who smoke two packs a day but don’t manifest addiction,” Burns said.
“You agree not all smokers are addicted?”
“I do,” Burns said.
Burns indicated Zingaro’s addiction was signaled by her rapid use of cigarettes starting when she first got up in the morning.
“She liked to smoke all day long,” he said.
“She liked to smoke when she was consuming alcohol,” Reilly said.
“Yes, but she didn’t describe long periods of abstinence (not smoking) when she wasn’t drinking,” Burns corrected.
“Lots of things depressed her, her employment for example,” Reilly said.
“Sure,” Burns agreed.
Burns agreed marital difficulties added to the depression.