Florida Judge Slashes Award in Tobacco Case
A Miami judge slashed by 91% a $5.5 million award to a flight attendant claiming injury from secondhand smoke, saying the size of the punishment handed to cigarette makers was "shocking."
Philip Morris USA, a unit of Philip Morris Cos. and one of the main defendants in the case decided in June, welcomed the reduction but said its lawyers would appeal the remaining $500,000 in penalties to a higher court. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc., British American Tobacco PLC's Brown & Williamson Tobacco unit and Lorillard Tobacco Co., a unit of Loews Corp., also were defendants in the suit.
The ruling, which an attorney for plaintiff Lynn French said may be challenged, is the latest setback for flight attendants pressing claims from the 1998 $350 million settlement with tobacco companies of a class-action suit in Miami.
Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Fredricka Smith said the chronic sinusitis that Ms. French, 56 years old, blamed on tobacco smoke aboard the jets she flew in during the 1970s and 1980s had weighed lightly on her life. While acknowledging Ms. French's persistent discomfort, surgery and use of medications, Judge Smith said Ms. French "continued to work as a flight attendant, full time, while successfully balancing her duties as a mother and wife."
The judge said, "In view of the evidence of the plaintiff's pain and suffering, the award of $5.5 million is, indeed, shocking."
Nearly 1,850 flight attendants have individual secondhand-smoke cases pending in Florida flowing from the class-action settlement four years ago. Two other suits have resulted in a decision favoring tobacco companies and one has ended in a mistrial.
In a separate tobacco case, a San Diego judge tentatively dismissed a class-action lawsuit that accused the same four tobacco companies of improperly marketing cigarettes to teenagers. Four San Diego teenagers filed a lawsuit in 1998 against the companies on behalf of California's estimated 1.5 million teen smokers.
The lawsuit sought to ban tobacco advertising aimed at teens and asked the court to order the companies to hand over the profits from cigarette sales to minors.
Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager said he found no evidence that the companies had run ads encouraging youth smoking.
Meanwhile, Lorillard sued the National Association of Attorneys General, the latest salvo in a battle over antismoking advertisements by the American Legacy Foundation.
The company said its lawsuit, filed in a Delaware state court, accuses the National Association of Attorneys General of "breach of fiduciary duty." The company said the association has failed to act against the American Legacy Foundation for violating a 1998 industry settlement with states.
A message left with the attorneys general association wasn't returned.
Cheryl Healton, president and chief executive of the American Legacy Foundation, said, "This is simply the latest in over a year of pressure tactics and legal maneuvers by Lorillard to challenge Legacy's groundbreaking and effective public-information campaign to reduce youth smoking."
The foundation was created as part of a $206 billion settlement between attorneys general and big tobacco companies to organize a national effort to educate the public about the dangers of smoking.
Lorillard said Legacy broke a provision of the settlement forbidding "any personal attack on, or vilification of," tobacco companies. Lorillard said it was vilified in a radio ad that is part of the foundation's campaign.