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Harris v. R.J. Reynolds

Dr. Brent Staggs Testifies Concerning Smoker’s Stomach Cancer, Leading to $10M Verdict in Tobacco Case


The Expert: Dr. Brent Staggs, a pathologist in Arkansas, testifies for the plaintiff, walking jurors through the plaintiff’s stomach cancer, its treatment, and his belief in its connection to smoking.


By Dr. Gary F. Gansar, MD, FACS
Senior Physician Medical Director, AMFS

In a 2019 tobacco trial out of Florida, the plaintiff claimed that the defendant cigarette maker concealed the hazards of smoking, leading to addiction, and was thus ultimately responsible for his stomach cancer. Dr. Brent Staggs, an Arkansas pathologist, testified in support of the plaintiff, walking jurors through how the disease is diagnosed, its treatment, and its connection to smoking.

The discussion in court begins with a review of the plaintiff’s history from 1992. Initially he started with difficulties that could be related to gastroesophageal reflux disease, but was eventually noted to have an iron deficiency anemia and blood in the stool. These signs, indicative of bleeding somewhere in the gastrointestinal tract, were worked up with a colonoscopy that was normal, then an upper gastrointestinal X-ray series which was also negative. This was followed by an esophagogastroduodenoscopy, examination of the upper gastrointestinal tract with a scope, and this revealed a fairly large adenocarcinoma of the stomach which was confirmed by biopsy. Adenocarcinoma is a cancer of the glands of the stomach and is the most common type of stomach cancer. A CT scan then suggested that this cancer was confined to the stomach. Subsequently, the patient developed abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting as symptoms of his cancer.

The pathology report on the entire specimen that was eventually removed in 1992, confirmed the stomach cancer, measuring 10x7x1 cm. Staggs states without reservation that long-term smoking causes stomach cancer, and that he feels that even though other things can also cause stomach cancer, in this case, “His long history of cigarette smoking was a significant contributing cause of his stomach cancer.”

The jury agreed with the doctor and awarded $10 million.

About the Author Dr. Gary F. Gansar, MD, FACS

Gary Gansar, MD, is residency-trained in general surgery. He served as Chief of Surgery and Staff at Elmwood Medical Center and on the Medical Executive Committee at Touro Infirmary and Mercy Hospital in New Orleans, LA. Dr. Gansar was Board Certified in general surgery while in active practice. He joined AMFS in 2015 as a Physician Medical Director.

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