Iowans' 13 lawsuits against tobacco firms ready for trial
After months of delays, the 13 lawsuits against the tobacco companies by Iowans who claim smoking caused their illnesses or killed a loved one are ready for trial, lawyers in the cases said Thursday.
Steve Wandro, a Des Moines lawyer who represents the plaintiffs, said the companies are accused of concealing the dangers of tobacco and, in some cases, spiking cigarettes with nicotine to cause addiction.
The lawsuits, filed from 1997 to last summer, are expected to start unfolding before a jury next year, he said.
Wandro said the claims are similar to those in lawsuits tried in other states with mixed results.
In June, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury awarded $3 billion in punitive damages and $5.5 million in compensatory damages to a 56-year-old Topanga, Calif., man who had lung cancer and 12 months to live. The verdict, the largest in an individual case, is being appealed by Philip Morris Co.
"We feel juries will be responsive to the evidence we present at trial," Wandro said of the cases filed in the federal courts in the Northern and Southern Districts of Iowa. "Tobacco companies have been successful in defending these cases, but we believe the trend is turning."
John Finley, a lawyer for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. in Louisville, Ky., one of the defendants, said the company "will defend the case vigorously."
"We believe that smoking is a personal choice someone makes," he said. "When they make that choice, they've known for some time that there are health risks. Under those circumstances, common sense dictates that the manufacturer shouldn't be liable for a choice a person makes knowingly."
Beverly Siddens of Des Moines is one of the plaintiffs. Her husband, Charles, died of lung cancer in 1994.
"My husband has been smoking since he was in high school," said Siddens, who gave up smoking five years ago when she developed oral cancer. "He did try to stop, but he didn't have much luck."
Wandro said a federal judge ruled this week that the lawyers could not file a class-action lawsuit in behalf of Iowans who claim losses due to smoking. He said the ruling may be appealed.
The individual cases have been delayed until the Iowa Supreme Court rules on technical points that have arisen.
Wandro said the cases will be helped by information uncovered in a lawsuit by states against the industry. The dispute ended in a billion-dollar settlement, $2 billion of which went to Iowa.
"That opened the archives and a lot of documents," he said.