Lawyer Decries Tobacco Ads
MIAMI (AP) - A jury award of $154 billion in punitive damages to sick Florida smokers would bankrupt the nation's five biggest cigarette makers 10 times over, a tobacco attorney said Tuesday in closing arguments.
``That's a request for a death warrant for each of these five companies,'' said lead tobacco attorney Dan Webb, who represents Philip Morris Inc., the nation's largest cigarette maker. ``It's more than financially destroyed. They're gone.''
The requested verdict range of $123 billion to $196 billion is so high it couldn't even be considered ridiculous but ``makes a mockery of this case and this proceeding,'' Webb said.
Webb portrayed Stanley Rosenblatt, representing an estimated 300,000 to 700,000 sick Florida smokers in the landmark class-action trial, as greedy, saying his purpose was ``to not seek truth but to seek money.''
He asked jurors not to give smokers ``a large award or bonus'' with a punitive award that pays them on top of compensatory awards intended to make injured smokers financially whole for their illnesses and lost income.
The six-member jury already has decided that the industry makes a deadly, defective product and awarded $12.7 million in compensatory damages to three representative smokers.
The key tobacco defense is that the industry has changed its ways since states began suing in 1994, and that a $257 billion settlement reached in those lawsuits two years ago punishes the companies enough.
Philip Morris, which makes Marlboro cigarettes and controls almost half the U.S. market, is no longer ``conducting business the way it did in the '50s, '60s and '70s'' and should not be assessed any punitive damages because of ``enormous'' changes since then, Webb said.
``The world of Philip Morris has not stood still,'' he said. ``Your verdict has had a profound effect on Philip Morris and how it does business.''
The companies have argued they should not be required to pay any more than their combined net worth of $15.3 billion, the difference between assets and liabilities on financial balance sheets. The judge has said trademark values are not reflected in that amount and can be considered by the jury.
Rosenblatt completed the opening segment of his final remarks earlier Tuesday, charging cigarette advertising in magazines proves the industry has not changed.
``They are yelling and shouting from the rooftops in these ads,'' he said. ``That's why they spend peanuts on the youth prevention programs and $6 billion a year on advertising and promotion.''
As closing arguments began Monday in the two-year trial, Rosenblatt called on the jury to punish Big Tobacco for five decades of ``deceit.''
With the jury out of the courtroom Tuesday, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. attorney Ben Reid protested the size of Rosenblatt's request, telling the judge, ``He has asked for an amount that by a matter of law is an illegal amount.''
Circuit Judge Robert Kaye called the issue something for attorneys to argue in their closing statements and not a legal issue for the judge to decide in advance.
The case - the first smokers' class-action lawsuit to go to trial - represents what could be the gravest financial threat to the industry since it settled the state lawsuits in 1997 and 1998.
Any decision will be appealed and could take at least two years to move through Florida's courts.
The other defendants are Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co., Liggett Group Inc. and the industry's defunct Council for Tobacco Research and Tobacco Institute.