Internal Feuding Amid Tobacco Suit
MIAMI (AP) -- Both sides rested Friday in a landmark court fight over punitive damages for 300,000 to 700,000 sick Florida smokers as a lawyer disclosed internal feuding among the nation's five biggest cigarette makers.
Philip Morris Inc. attorney Dan Webb cited the opposing defense views as he asked for as much time as possible for closing arguments in the pivotal money fight, which could set a national record.
``There's been a lot of dissension over here, and I'm trying to be a peacemaker,'' said Webb, the lead tobacco attorney. ``I don't know quite know how to say this. There's a lot of disagreement among these five companies as we go into it.''
For decades, the industry spoke with a single voice denying smoking caused disease. When the trial opened two years ago, Liggett Group Ltd. had broken ranks.
Now, it's every Marlboro Man for himself.
The industry is coming off its best financial year in history, but each company offered testimony about its money worries and told of recent changes made to discourage youth smoking.
Lorillard Tobacco Co. announced for the first time that it has changed company policy to say smoking causes disease and is addictive.
Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.'s falling market share was offered as a sign it could easily go under.
R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and industry-leading Philip Morris have not acknowledged any causal link between smoking and disease.
``If there's ever been a trial where these tobacco companies have had different issues to address to the jury, you've seen it,'' Webb told Circuit Judge Robert Kaye.
The six-member jury serving for nearly two years was told to return July 10 for closing arguments, which could take four days.
The lawsuit seeks a record-breaking $200 billion, and smokers' witnesses have said the industry can afford to pay $150 billion to $157 billion. But the smokers' attorney can adjust the figure, and he hasn't yet told jurors exactly what he wants.
Smokers want to penalize the industry for decades of misconduct, but the companies argue their $254 billion commitment to state lawsuit settlements is enough to pay.
The national record for a jury's punitive damage verdict was $4.8 billion awarded last year against General Motors in a fiery California crash that seriously burned six people.
Smokers had planned a brief rebuttal case using part of a videotaped deposition by Dr. David Burns, a public health expert, but the judge excluded it as repetitious.
The six-member jury hearing the landmark smokers' class-action trial already has decided the industry makes a deadly, defective product and awarded $12.7 million in compensatory damages to three smokers with cancer.