Flight attendant loses claim against tobacco companies
MIAMI - Tobacco companies won their second lawsuit in a month Friday on a flight attendant's claim that her sinus disease was caused by years of working in smoky jet cabins.
A six-member jury rejected a $1.1 million claim for damages by Julia Tucker, a 25-year US Airways flight attendant with chronic sinusitis.
Lorillard general counsel Ronald Milstein said he was "extremely pleased" with the verdict reached after two hours of deliberations.
Philip Gerson, one of Tucker's attorneys, said he was "disappointed" and "a little surprised" by the verdict.
Industry attorney Dan Molony attacked the medical evidence offered by Tucker, who lives in suburban Richmond, Va. He blamed her illnesses on allergies rather than cigarette smoke.
"Not one entry in any of those records attributed any of her condition to exposure to secondhand smoke," Molony told the jury. "What we dispute is the cause of the chronic sinusitis that she suffers."
R.J. Reynolds attorney Douglas Chumbley said, "Credible evidence does not exist to show that secondhand smoke causes chronic sinusitis in nonsmokers."
Philip Morris vice president William Ohlemeyer said Tucker's case was decided on the facts, which didn't entitle her to any damages.
The trial over compensatory damages grew out of a 1997 class-action settlement between four leading cigarette makers and nonsmoking flight attendants.
The settlement set up a $300 million foundation to study smoke-related illnesses and paved the way for compensatory damage trials on 1,800 attendants' claims. Punitive damages are not allowed.
Four previous trials on attendants' claims have ended with a $5.5 million verdict, two decisions favoring the tobacco companies and a mistrial.
Milstein said he hoped the outcome of the latest trial would convince other attendants and their attorneys "that the claims they have brought have no merit."
Gerson, however, said he didn't think the cases so far would affect future trials because "each one believes in the validity of their claim or it wouldn't have been brought in the first place."
In California on Friday, a jury awarded a record-shattering $28 billion in punitive damages Friday to a 64-year-old former smoker who sued Philip Morris Inc. for fraud and negligence. Analysts said the verdict will almost certainly be reduced on appeal.
R.J. Reynolds shares fell $3.36, or 9 percent, to $35.10 each on the New York Stock Exchange ( news - web sites). Philip Morris shares ended down $2.91, or 7 percent, at $36.59 each.