Jury: Tobacco Industry Not Liable
MIAMI (AP) - A flight attendant awaiting a lung transplant is not entitled to money from the tobacco industry for illnesses she blames on cigarette smoke in jetliner cabins, a jury decided Thursday.
The jury found the tobacco industry was not liable for the lung disease that made Marie Fontana cough up blood on the witness stand during her testimony in the three-week trial. Jurors began deliberating late Thursday morning.
Fontana's request for compensatory damages is the first of 3,100 claims prompted by the industry's $349 million settlement of a national class-action suit by nonsmoking attendants. The settlement left it up to the attendants to sue individually for damages.
The nation's four biggest cigarette manufacturers disputed testimony that she has emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and insisted the cause is unknown for the only ailment they said she has.
Fontana's attorneys argued that her medical condition was aggravated by smoky air in the TWA jets she flew from 1973-96, when she retired on disability.
The 59-year-old Boca Raton resident attended only three days of her trial. She is a lung-transplant candidate who requires a 24-hour oxygen feed through a nose tube and portable tanks.
In closing arguments Thursday, Fontana's attorneys cited the testimony of two radiologists who said she has obstructive airway diseases that can be caused by secondhand smoke.
Circuit Judge Thomas Wilson instructed the jury that, as a matter of law, secondhand smoke causes disease in healthy nonsmokers.
Tobacco attorneys contended that Fontana has only sarcoidosis, a disease that medical authorities say has no known cause.
U.S. airlines banned smoking on domestic flights in 1990 and on international flights in 1997. Fontana flew mostly international routes.
After the jury left the courtroom to begin its work, the judge denied an industry request for a mistrial because his instructions included the fact that thousands of other attendants have damage claims pending.
The defendants were Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson and Lorillard.