Attorneys: Smoke made flight attendant ill
MIAMI -- Attorneys for a disabled TWA flight attendant blamed the poison in secondhand cigarette smoke for putting her on a waiting list for a double lung transplant.
Tobacco industry attorneys responded in opening statements Tuesday that Marie Fontana's illness was not caused or aggravated by smoke and that she should not be awarded any damages.
The Boca Raton woman is seeking an unspecified sum for medical expenses, lost pay, pain and suffering from the nation's four biggest cigarette makers.
Her claim is the first of more than 3,200 filed in Miami-Dade County after a $349 million national class-action settlement in 1997. The settlement created a medical research foundation and gave nonsmoking attendants like Fontana some legal advantages when pursuing individual lawsuits.
"Why did she have to be made sick when she was just doing her job?" Fontana's attorney, Philip Gerson, asked the six-member jury. "But for the tobacco smoke, she would have lived out a normal life."
R.J. Reynolds attorney Jonathan Engram rejected any tobacco industry liability, saying Fontana suffers from a lung-scarring disease called sarcoidosis that has no known cause.
"I'm not trying to say that Ms. Fontana isn't sick," he said. "My point is that exposure to environmental tobacco smoke did not make her sick."
Attorneys for Fontana, 58, a 24-year attendant on disability since 1996, say she suffers from sarcoidosis as well as emphysema and chronic sinusitis, two diseases caused by secondhand smoke. The combination of the diseases means "a death sentence. Her condition is terminal," Gerson said.
Tobacco attorneys contend emphysema came into the picture during the lawsuit and was not diagnosed by her treating physicians or seen in medical tests.
"Look at the medical records. It's a drumbeat," said Kenneth Reilly, an attorney for Philip Morris and Lorillard. Brown & Williamson is the fourth defendant.
The jury has not yet seen Fontana, who uses an oxygen tank. Gerson said she would testify for short periods with rest breaks to catch her breath.
Fontana joined TWA in 1973 and flew primarily trans-Atlantic trips, where exposure to smoke was considered more intense and harmful than short-haul flights. Testimony was set to begin today in the trial, which is expected to take about three weeks before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Thomas Wilson.