Closing Arguments in Tobacco Trial
MIAMI (AP) - The tobacco industry has taken the mind-boggling position that three ailing smokers' collective 100 years of puffing was irrelevant to their cancer cases, their attorney argued today on their request for damages.
The nation's five biggest cigarette makers have tried to argue the two plaintiffs with lung cancer have a rare form that jurors have determined is not linked to smoking, said Stanley Rosenblatt, representing the smokers. The third smoker has throat cancer.
``It simply boggles the mind that anyone could walk into this courtroom and look jurors in the eyes and say more than 100 years of smoking is irrelevant,'' Rosenblatt told jurors as closing arguments got under way.
The jury being asked to set compensatory damages - actual expenses, pain and suffering - for the three representatives of an estimated 500,000 sick Florida smokers. Closing arguments for the two sides were expected to stretch over four days.
The same six-member panel decided last June that the industry fraudulently conspired to produce a deadly product. Once the compensatory issue is decided, more testimony will be taken on the blockbuster question of punitive damages.
``I expect an eye-popping verdict. No question,'' said Bob Montgomery, a member of the state legal team that won a trend-setting $11 billion settlement from Big Tobacco.
Lead tobacco lawyer Daniel Webb has worried about a $300 billion award against an industry valued by outsiders at anywhere from $8 billion to more than $100 billion.
To date, the record jury award of $4.8 billion in punitive damages against General Motors over a car fire that badly burned six people was reduced by a California judge to $1.1 billion.
Attorneys, their companies and smokers involved in the tobacco case could not be interviewed because of a gag order challenged by both the tobacco industry and news media.
By law, an award worth more than the companies are worth wouldn't be allowed to stand because punitive verdicts can hurt but not shut down businesses. Presumably, only profits are at stake, and Philip Morris Inc. leads the pack with 26 percent profits.
The other defendants are R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co., Liggett Group Inc. and the industry's Council for Tobacco Research and Tobacco Institute.
Anti-smoking activist John Banzhaf of Action on Smoking and Health sees the big numbers mentioned by the industry as a tactical move for public consumption.
``Nobody's talking about putting them out of business. That's their scare story,'' said Banzhaf. ``It's to influence legislators to pass legislation designed to protect them.''
Since the case began in July 1998, the tobacco industry has pushed for new laws in the tobacco-friendly states of Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky and Georgia to shield cigarette makers from the Miami verdict.