Lartigue

Victoria St. Pierre Lartigue for Frank J. Lartigue
v R. J. Reynolds, Liggett & Myers

United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, New Orleans Division
Filed 1955

Lartigue died of laryngeal and lung cancer.
This was the first case to actually go to trial.

Plaintiff attorneys: H. Alva Brumfeld, Jack C. Caldwell, Melvin M. Belli.
Defendant attorneys: Chaffe, McCall Phillips Burke & Hopkins (RJR) by Harry McCall. Lemle & Kelleher (L&M) Porter B Chandler, Edwin J. Jacob, Frederick Haas of Webster, Sheffield & Chrystie, Davis Polk Wardwell Sunderland & Kiendl by Theodore Kiendl.

Timeline

  • 1955 – August 12: Complaint filed; injury alleged; laryngeal cancer, lung cancer
    – seeking General Damages $779,500
  • 1960 – October 11: Verdict for the defendant; plaintiff appeals
  • 1963 – April 19: Verdict affirmed by 5th Circuit Court
  • 1963 – October 14: US Supreme Court denies Certiorari (375 U.S. 865)
  • 1964 – October 12: US Supreme Court denies Certiorari again

Narrative

The plaintiff alleged the defendants’ cigarettes caused the death of her husband, Frank J. Lartigue, from lung cancer on July 13, 1955. He was a heavy smoker of Picayune, King Bee, and Camel cigarettes. In 1954 he had had surgery for cancer of the larynx.

The plaintiff alleged that cigarette manufacturers should be held to warrant the wholesomeness of the product, since they were designed for human consumption. The plaintiff claimed strict liability, breach of warranty and negligence.

The defendants argued contributory negligence, and assumption of risk. The case was heard in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, New Orleans Division (Civil Action No. 527A), before the Honorable Herbert W. Christenberry.

After nearly three weeks of hearings, a jury ruled in favor of the tobacco companies, primarily because it did not believe that the companies could have known that their products might cause cancer.

In its affirmation of the verdict the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the verdict was not contrary to the weight of the evidence. The implied warranty instructions were not contrary to Louisiana law. There were several other findings.

The court ruled that the negligence terms used were also properly used to describe the warranty claims, and the two jury instructions were sufficiently separate so as not to confuse the jury. It was necessary for the plaintiff to show that the foreseeable harm might be expected to flow from some element of the product.

Neither did the negligence instructions place an impossible burden of proof on the plaintiff or incorrectly limit when the defendants were required to give the warning. The defendants could not be held responsible for medical reports not yet published when Mr. Lartigue’s cancer started.

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