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Plaintiff in Hernando tobacco case likely to take stand

BROOKSVILLE — John Rizzuto, the 66-year-old retired letter carrier at the center of the first tobacco lawsuit to go to trial in Hernando County, is expected to take the stand Wednesday morning for the first time, according to his attorney, Brent Bigger.

His trial, which started last week, was six years in the making.

Rizzuto filed suit against Philip Morris USA and Liggett Group in 2007, claiming they are partly to blame for his lung disease. Years of legal wrangling followed.

In opening statements on Aug. 15, Bigger explained why companies should pay his client compensatory and punitive damages, even though Rizzuto was the one who put the cigarettes in his mouth for four decades.

Rizzuto is claiming a right to damages as a member of the so-called Engle class. In 1994, a class-action suit was certified in Miami that became known as the Engle case for lead plaintiff and Miami pediatrician Howard Engle.

Observers say Rizzuto's is the first case to go to trial in Hernando. The jury must decide if he was addicted and, if so, whether his chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, or COPD, was caused by that addiction.

Bigger told jurors that Rizzuto started smoking regularly at age 13. He preferred L&Ms and Marlboro Reds and would smoke one to two packs a day.

Rizzuto now has severe emphysema and one-third the typical lung capacity of a man his age and size, Bigger said. He needs oxygen at night and carries an inhaler.

Plaintiff in Hernando tobacco case likely to take stand 08/21/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 1:28pm]
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