Man with no legs sues tobacco company
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- David Burton has no legs. A courtroom battle began Tuesday over whether that is his own fault, or that of tobacco companies who sold him cigarettes for 43 years.
Burton, of Kansas City, Kan., sued the R.J. Reynolds and Brown & Williamson tobacco companies in 1994 in federal court, alleging they hid the dangers of smoking from the public, even though they knew cigarettes were dangerous. He smoked from 1950, when he was a teen, until 1993, when a circulatory disease forced doctors to amputate his legs.
Smoker lawsuits against tobacco companies are common, though smokers seldom win. Just a handful of smokers have won individual claims against tobacco companies since the mid-1990s.
On Tuesday, Burton watched from his black, motorized wheelchair as his attorney, Kenneth B. McClain, laid out his case against the two tobacco companies.
Tobacco companies cast doubt about whether smoking was dangerous well into the 1980s, McClain said. He showed jurors documents from tobacco companies where they publicly claimed to be concerned about smokers' health, while, he said, acknowledging only to themselves that smoking was dangerous.
"They didn't say, 'You smoke at your own risk,' " McClain said.
Burton was "unaware that at the end of the road, he could lose his legs," McClain said. "In 1954, he's 19 years old, he has no idea what (smoking) has in store for him. The tobacco companies do."
He said Burton couldn't quit because he was addicted. He stopped smoking in 1993.
R.J. Reynolds attorney Sydney McDole told jurors that Burton's health problems had less to do with smoking than with a lifetime of drinking and eating bacon, ham and eggs, against his doctor's warnings.
She called Burton an "independent, strong-willed man" who "knew alcohol was bad for him, yet he drank a lot of whiskey and beer."
McDole said tobacco's dangers were known before Burton began smoking in 1950. And she pointed out that a health warning was printed on every pack of cigarettes he bought after 1966.
McClain acknowledged that Burton drank and ate poorly, though he said later testimony would add context to McDole's claims.
Dr. Frank Woodside, an attorney for Louisville, Ky.-based Brown & Williamson, told jurors that Burton smoked his company's Lucky Strikes only when the store was out of his preferred Camels, made by R.J. Reynolds, which is based in Winston-Salem, N.C.
The trial is expected to last four weeks.