Miami jury hears about housewife who died of cancer
MIAMI -- (AP) -- A Florida housewife ``bought into'' the glamour of cigarette advertising at age 11 and died of cancer that spread from her lungs to her brain, bones and liver, her attorney said today in opening statements of her damage case.
Attorneys for the tobacco industry offered two types of cancer not caused by smoking as the culprit in Angie Della Vecchia's case, the third life story to be heard by a jury that decided in July that cigarettes are a defective and dangerous product.
An estimated 500,000 sick Florida smokers hope to be awarded as much as $300 billion in punitive damages if the jury rules in favor of compensatory damages in the landmark class-action case.
``Angie Della Vecchia bought into the misrepresentations, the misstatements of fact'' by the tobacco industry, said Stanley Rosenblatt, attorney for the smokers. ``She simply was in awe of grown-up smoking. That's what the tobacco companies wanted her perception to be and they succeeded.''
A videotape she made shortly before she died last July is expected to be played next week. After the smokers' presentation is done, the industry will offer its defense. The jury is expected to get the case this spring.
The New Port Richey woman started smoking in seventh grade while growing up in the New York borough of Queens. She tried quitting with nicotine patches and a prescription drug but didn't give up smoking until after her brain cancer was diagnosed -- after she suffered a seizure while driving.
Gordon Smith, attorney for Brown & Williamson, which bought the maker of her early brand Pall Mall, offered a ``double-barreled reason'' for Mrs. Della Vecchia's cancer -- a 1-inch lung scar or a type of cancer not caused by smoking.
But even if smoking caused her cancer, he asked the jury to consider whether she took responsibility for something she decided to do and considered enjoyable.
``Did Angie Della Vecchia ... take responsibility for her own actions so that her husband should not be paid money because she smoked?'' Smith asked.
Over Rosenblatt's objections, Smith repeatedly used words from Della Vecchia's deposition against her, saying she was aware of the risks of smoking for 30 years but didn't really try to quit until her cancers were diagnosed. She resumed smoking after her lung tumor was removed and before the brain cancer was found 18 months later. She died at 53 after 41 years of smoking.
The defendants in the case are: R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Philip Morris Inc., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co., Liggett Group Inc., the Council for Tobacco Research and the Tobacco Institute.