Brown & Williamson Wins Smoking Suit
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. extended the cigarette industry's victory streak on Tuesday by winning a lawsuit brought by a smoker's family who claimed the company's low-tar cigarettes caused his death.
Brown & Williamson, the No. 3 U.S. tobacco company, said a nine-member federal jury in Charleston, S.C., found in its favor on Tuesday in a product liability suit.
The decision is part of a strong winning record by tobacco companies in liability cases since 1996, according to analysts. The industry has prevailed four times in a row this year.
``It's a good win for us,'' said Steve Kottak, a spokesman for Brown & Williamson, a unit of British American Tobacco Plc (BATS.L) (BTI.A).
He added that the ruling showed juries ``continue to favor common-sense findings'' on personal responsibility.
In the case, the family of Samuel Little, a Mount Pleasant, S.C., businessman, charged that smoking Brown & Williamson's low-tar Carlton cigarettes caused his death.
Little started smoking as a teenager and switched to Carltons in the mid-1970s because they were low in tar and nicotine. He developed cancer in 1995 and died in 1999 at age 54.
The family had sought $970,000 in stipulated damages. They had also asked for unspecified amounts for pain and suffering and for punitive damages.
The Charleston case had not been viewed as a big threat to the industry because it focused on a single smoker. It also was brought in South Carolina, a major tobacco-producing state.
The jury deliberated four hours before returning a verdict.
Company Faces Similar Case In Texas
Based in Louisville, Ky., Brown & Williamson makes such brands as Kool, Lucky Strike, Pall Mall, GPC and Misty, along with Carlton.
British American closed off 6 cents at $15.20 in light American Stock Exchange trading. The Standard & Poor's tobacco index (.SPTOBC) closed down 0.58 percent as markets overall were close to unchanged.
Brown & Williamson faces a similar case in federal court in Beaumont, Texas, Kottak said.
Brown & Williamson and other cigarette makers have been hit with a wave of suits in recent years claiming compensation for the treatment of sick smokers and damages. They include the $206 billion settlement between the tobacco industry and 46 states in late 1998.
David Adelman, an analyst with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, said the case fit a trend of tobacco companies winning liability cases.
He said the industry had won 17 of 21 cases since 1996, when trials over compensation for states' expenses in covering tobacco-related ailments began.
``That is an extraordinary record for any industry, for any corporate defendant,'' Adelman said.
Little's family was represented by Ness Motley Loadholt Richardson & Poole, a Mount Pleasant law firm that has played a major role in tobacco suits.
``Quite frankly, if that firm can't win, it will discourage others from suing the industry,'' Adelman said.
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. (RJR.N) also had been a defendant in the case. The judge dismissed the claims against Reynolds last week.