FORT LAUDERDALE - Attorneys defending cigarette makers Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds on Thursday sought to portray plaintiff Karla Zingaro as knowing about the dangers of smoking early in her life but who disregarded the warnings and smoked anyway.
“You shouldn’t have been smoking at that age (teenager), right?” asked Ken Reilly, attorney for Philip Morris.
“Well, I probably shouldn’t have,” Zingaro answered.
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 afflicting the woman saying the companies conspired to hide from the public 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 recurred. She also suffers from emphysema and greatly reduced breathing function.
Zingaro, attached to an oxygen breathing apparatus, appeared as a witness for a second day answering questions from her attorney Todd Falzone. She described for the jury her ordeal as the mother of two children who ran a Florida day care center and the declining health she had to contend with.
“I was more and more short of breath,” Zingaro said. “I coughed a lot and I was always on medicine it was a gradual thing, not pleasant.”
Zingaro indicated she felt her illness was also hurting her two daughters who were worried about her condition.
Falzone asked her about the numerous times she had attempted to quit smoking without success.
“I tried so hard,” Zingaro said. “From hypnosis, to acupuncture. I used a patch, laser, plastic cigarettes, cutting cigarettes in half, having my daughter hide cigarettes and rationing me one a day. I would get super anxious and irritated with my kids. I felt defeated I had to give in. I wasn’t normal about it.”
Zingaro said she smoked in her garage and threw the butts on the floor and during attempts to quit when she had no cigarettes, would go out to the garage, pick up a discarded butt and smoke it for a few puffs.
“It was horrible,” she said.
At one point a doctor informed her she had six months to live and suggested hospice care, although Zingaro said her regular doctor told her that was a tactic to scare her. At that time she switched to the E-cigarettes.
Reilly’s line of questioning under cross examination was designed to establish that Zingaro knew smoking was damaging to health even as far back as her teen years. He recalled in her earlier testimony that as an elementary school student she had seen with classmates an anti-smoking presentation that showed on a projector screen a human lung blackened by cigarette smoking.
“You went home (from school) and told your parents, you need to stop smoking,” Reilly said.
“Yes I did,” Zingaro said.
“Your parents declined to stop smoking, didn’t they?”
“Two years later you decided to smoke yourself," Reilly said.
“Correct,” Zingaro answered.
Zingaro also agreed with Reilly that as a teen smoker in the 1960s she saw label warnings on packs of cigarettes that cigarettes were hazardous to health, but paid no attention to the labels.
“I appreciate that you paid no attention, but that’s a decision you made, whether you were going to pay attention to them or not, right?” Reilly asked.
“Okay,” Zingaro said.
“Did you drink alcohol in high school?” Reilly asked.
“I did,” Zingaro answered.
“Did you know you weren’t supposed to be drinking alcohol in high school?”
“I didn’t know that,” Zingaro said.
Reilly indicated that drinking alcohol had a health risk like smoking.
“You decided to drink alcohol and take the risk,” he said.
“I was very young,” Zingaro responded.
“I understand, but it’s a decision you made, right?”
“Yes,” Zingaro said.
The defense during the afternoon session attempted to assign Zingaro's compulsive and habitual smoking as being caused by behavioral and psychological problems, not caused by the cigarette companies. Zingaro had conceded during questioning that her personality had been that of a "worrier."
Reilly called attention to the anxiety attacks reportedly suffered by Zingaro as an adult, revealed in statements she had made written down on a 2010 form filing for disability benefits. One said, "I have uncontrollable crying and shaking hands." Another read, "Nobody cares about me, why should I quit smoking?"
A 2013 medical evaluation document noted, "Patient (Zingaro) has a long history of depression and anxiety," and mentioned family and relationship problems she had suffered.
Reilly also noted alcohol-involved accidents where Zingaro had fallen and was injured.
Zingaro was advised at the time by doctors to give up both smoking and drinking, which she did.
Earlier in the week Judge Raag Singhal of the 17th Judicial Circuit of Florida told the jury to expect the trial to extend through the first week of May.