Damages Phase in Fla. Tobacco Trial
MIAMI (AP) - A jury that has already decided the tobacco industry conspired to make a killer product now turns to two key questions that could cripple cigarette makers.
Jurors this week are being asked to award damages to cover the medical bills, pain and suffering for three sick smokers who represent an estimated 500,000 others in the first class-action case against the tobacco industry ever to go to trial.
The jury then will be asked to set a dollar figure to punish the industry. Company officials fear a ruinous $300 billion punitive damage verdict.
Closing arguments in the compensatory-damages phase of the trial against the nation's five biggest tobacco companies were to resume today and last through Thursday.
The jury last summer found the companies engaged in ``extreme and outrageous conduct'' in making a defective product that causes emphysema, lung cancer and other illnesses.
The attorney for the smokers, all of whom have cancer, played more than seven minutes of cigarette TV commercials from the 1950s and early 1960s in court Monday in an attempt to illustrate how the industry glossed over tobacco's health hazards.
``It sure doesn't seem like a dangerous product, does it?'' Stanley Rosenblatt said after playing commercials featuring celebrities such as Lucy and Desi Arnaz. Referring to the tobacco companies, Rosenblatt bellowed, ``Their prosperity caused a lot of unnecessary suffering. They want to walk away.''
The six-member jury is being asked to order the companies to pay for the medical bills, pain and suffering of Mary Farnan, Frank Amodeo and the late Angie Della Vecchia. Their doctors testified their cancers were caused by smoking.
In a separate case in San Francisco on Monday, a jury ordered two top cigarette makers to pay $20 million in punitive damages to a dying smoker. The jury earlier awarded $1.7 million in compensatory damages.
In the Florida case, the industry has offered evidence that bronchioalveolar cancer - a form of lung cancer that the jury decided is not linked to smoking - was the culprit in the illness of Farnan, who smoked for 29 years, and Della Vecchia, who smoked for 40.
It blamed industrial wood dust as a possible cause of the throat cancer in Amodeo, a clock maker who smoked for 34 years.
The defendants are Philip Morris Inc., 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.
A news media challenge to a gag order imposed by Circuit Judge Robert Kaye on all parties in the trial also was to be heard today a few blocks away in federal court.