A litigator with several years’ worth of experience arguing Engle progeny cases secured a $2.4 million dollar verdict against Philip Morris USA Inc. in a case alleging fraud and conspiracy.
William “Bill” Wichmann, a Fort Lauderdale-based trial lawyer, argued on behalf of plaintiff Brenda Chadwell in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. His client’s late husband, James, died at age 31 in November 1993 after being diagnosed with lung cancer about one year earlier.
The multimillion-dollar verdict included damages for pain and suffering.
“The widow claimed that her husband was addicted to nicotine in Philip Morris cigarettes,” said Wichmann, whose client said her spouse started smoking at age 11 and had reached two packs before his 16th birthday.
The attorney cited the defendant’s past use of advertising telling customers that filtered and “light” cigarettes were less harmful than conventional products to advance the plaintiff’s argument that Philip Morris was in part responsible for the death of Chadwell’s husband.
“We alleged that he switched — started smoking with Marlboro, switched to Marlboro lights,” Wichmann said.
Plaintiff counsel called Dr. Robert N. Proctor, a historian employed by Stanford University, to provide expert testimony on tobacco company marketing.
“Dr. Proctor talked about Philip Morris’ advertising of Marlboro cigarettes toward teenagers, with the Marlboro Man and other marketing ad campaigns to create smoking culture even though there were warnings on the packs,” Wichmann said. “Dr. Proctor also testified that Philip Morris confused the issue with regards to filtered cigarettes and light cigarettes, leading smokers to believe filters and lights were safer, when in reality, they were just as dangerous.”
Having tried more than 10 Engle progeny cases, Wichmann is well acquainted with the demands of complex litigation. He said the defense — represented by Brian Jackson with Shook, Hardy & Bacon’s Kansas City office and Deborah Kuchler, a founding partner at New Orleans law firm Kuchler Polk Weiner — held that Chadwell’s husband was not actually addicted to smoking cigarettes. In addition, he said opposing counsel seized upon the young age at which the late Chadwell died to argue that it was not lung cancer nor his cigarette habit which caused his death.
Neither Jackson nor Kuchler with the defense responded to requests for comment.
“They argued he was too young to have gotten cancer from smoking,” Wichmann said. “Their defense was it’s a disease of elderly people.”
The defense instead held that Chadwell’s husband died after succumbing to NUT carcinoma, which Wichmann explained as “a rare genetic rearrangement of chromosomes.” Wichmann called upon Dr. Alan Lewin, a radiation oncologist at Baptist Hospital of Miami, to testify otherwise.
“Dr. Lewin treated Mr. Chadwell and he said in his testimony that it was lung cancer from smoking,” Wichmann said.
According to Wichmann, James Chadwell’s age made this something of an unusual tobacco case.
“It was one of the youngest Engle progeny plaintiffs to win a lung cancer case,” Wichmann said, noting that James Chadwell’s age also made the case more difficult in some regards.
“He started smoking in the early ’70s, years after the warnings were on the packs And although the widow did not remarry, she did start a relationship shortly after he died,” Wichmann said “The jury saw that.”
“[The defense] tried to minimize the effect Mr. Chadwell’s death had on his wife. They argued that his wife had moved on to another serious relationship shortly after he died,” the attorney added.
Wichmann worked on the case with Christopher Kanne, an attorney who has been with the Los Angeles-based firm Engstrom, Lipscomb & Lack since 2013.
“I have done most of my Engle Progeny cases with that law firm,” Wichmann explained. “The senior partner in that firm is Walter Lack, who is known as the trial lawyer from the Erin Brockovich case.”
Case: Estate of Chadwell v. Philip Morris USA
Case No.: 2010-017931-CA-01
Description: Product liability
Filing date: March 22, 2010
Verdict date: Sept. 25, 2018
Judge: Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jacqueline Hogan Scola
Plaintiff’s attorneys: William J. Wichmann, Law Offices of William J. Wichmann, Fort Lauderdale; and Christopher A. Kanne, Engstrom, Lipscomb & Lack, Los Angeles
Defense attorneys: Brian A. Jackson, Shook, Hardy & Bacon, Kansas City, Missouri; and Deborah D. Kuchler, Kuchler Polk Weiner, New Orleans
Verdict amount: $2.4 million