Opening statements begin Tuesday in the trial of a former Collier principal and Head Start Program director who sued three tobacco companies, alleging the cancers that caused him to retire were caused by his cigarette addiction.
Attorneys for John Szymanski, 72, of Fort Myers, R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris USA and Liggett Group LLC, finished four days of jury selection Monday, choosing six women and two alternates.
The trial before Lee Circuit Judge Sherra Winesett is the first of about 12 dozen tobacco lawsuits to head to trial there since a precedent-setting 2006 state Supreme Court ruling that decertified a class-action lawsuit involving up to 700,000 Floridians.
The high court, in Engle v. Liggett Group et al, ruled those diagnosed with tobacco-related diseases before November 1996 — and families of deceased smokers — could file individual claims and upheld a Miami jury’s finding that cigarette companies negligently misled the public about cigarettes’ dangers and addictive nature. As a result, plaintiffs don’t have to prove that.
Szymanski’s lead attorney, Keith Mitnik, won the largest Engle verdict so far, $91 million in Gainesville last year, and he and co-counsel Greg Prysock won a $34 million punitive damages award this spring. Their co-counsel is Craig Stevens and all are from Morgan and Morgan.