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Big Tobacco rolled a lucky seven as it won a seventh consecutive jury verdict in Florida in a so-called Engle progeny case. On Thursday, R.J. Reynolds emerged victorious in a Fort Lauderdale courtroom against John Vasko, a 52-year smoker who smoked one-and-a-half to two packs of Lucky Strikes a day until he died of lung cancer in 2006. The state court verdict was actually a mixed decision, as the jurors found that Vasko was addicted to cigarettes and that his addiction was a legal cause of his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. However, the jury also found that his claim was barred by the statute of limitations, as Jones Day attorney Steve Geise convinced the jury that Vasko contracted the disease before May 5, 1990, the start of the time Engle time period. (The rules set out by the Florida Supreme Court in the Engle case, which allow plaintiffs to assume certain facts about cigarettes and smoking, only apply to plaintiffs who contracted the disease no earlier than than that date.) In early October, RJ Reynolds and Philip Morris combined to defeat cases brought by Jimmie Willis, a 70-year-old man with a laryngeal cancer, and Eveline Warrick, a 73-year-old woman who died in February. Later that month, Philip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard, and Liggett Vector Brands combined to defeat Arthur Rohr, a 50-year smoker who died of lung cancer. “I believe that juries want to blame both parties,” Vasko’s attorney Stuart Ratzan of Rubio Ratzan told us. “They do not like what Big Tobacco has done and don’t like the nature of the product, but they also feel the smoker shares responsibility.” Indeed, according to our affiliate Courtroom View Network, which broadcast the Vasko trial, that was exactly the argument that defense lawyer Geise made in his summation. “Mr. Vasko smoked due to choice – he did not even try to quit before the 1980′s. Even heavily addicted smokers can stop smoking if they want to,” Geise argued to the jury. The Jones Day partner told us that he did not feel confident about his chances going into the trial because of the plaintiff’s health and because of the dearth of medical records available before the start of the Engle time period. “Ultimately, we proved he contracted COPD before the start of the Engle period, but it was an uphill battle,” Geise told us. Plaintiffs lawyer Ratzan, while disappointed, said he believes plaintiffs will get a better result next time. “We have a better understanding of how certain facts and evidence will actually play out in the courtroom and I’m confident that the next case I select will go much differently.” Ratzan also said he plans to appeal.

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