Both Sides Rest in Tobacco Suit
MIAMI (AP) - Both sides rested Friday in a landmark court fight threatening to set a national record for punitive damages sought by 300,000 to 700,000 sick Florida smokers.
The six-member jury will return July 10 to hear attorneys begin their closing arguments. The lawsuit seeks a record-breaking $200 billion, but the smokers' attorney hasn't told jurors yet exactly how much he wants.
The record jury award for punitive damages was $4.8 billion last year against General Motors. The award stemmed from a fiery California crash that seriously burned six people.
Smokers want to penalize the nation's five biggest cigarette makers for decades of misconduct, but the tobacco industry argues its $254 billion commitment to state lawsuit settlements is enough.
As attorneys discussed their plans for the rest of the case, lead industry attorney Dan Webb acknowledged infighting among cigarette makers.
``There's been a lot of dissension over here, and I'm trying to be a peacemaker,'' said Webb, a Philip Morris Inc. lawyer. ``We are independent of each other.''
Five tobacco chiefs made rare trial appearances to state their cases against any award. The jury already has ruled twice against the industry.
Industry CEOs and employees described youth smoking prevention programs in detail, and Lorillard Tobacco Co. announced for the first time that it has changed company policy to say smoking causes disease and is addictive.
Smokers' attorney Stanley Rosenblatt noted the companies' anti-smoking programs cost a fraction of the industry's $6 billion in annual advertising and promotional spending.
The final tobacco witness, Trudy Bourgeois, a Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. vice president, denied Thursday that the company targeted kids, new smokers or minorities. She expressed hope that the company can develop a safer product.
``I personally am just really sorry that people have suffered,'' she said. ``I wish I could undo it, but I know we're on the right road.''
The jury hearing the landmark smokers' class-action trial has decided the industry makes a deadly, defective product and awarded $12.7 million in compensatory damages to three smokers with cancer. The trial marks its second anniversary on July 6. Jury selection began on that date in 1998.
The other defendants are: R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Willamson Tobacco Corp. and Liggett Group Inc.