Philip Morris Challenges Jury Award
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Philip Morris Cos. challenged California's first jury award of damages for a smoking-related illness, arguing Tuesday that a 1997 state law allowing smokers to sue does not apply retroactively.
Philip Morris attorneys said that a $26.5 million award to a longtime smoker with lung cancer should be reduced or nullified because the law only allows lawsuits for damages incurred after the 1997 law went into effect.
The three-judge state appellate court panel did not indicate when it would rule.
The case could have broad implications for California smokers who claim they have been injured by tobacco use. A ruling favoring Philip Morris could immunize the industry from many California claims of injury before the 1997 law went into effect in 1998, said Daniel Smith, the attorney suing Philip Morris.
The case involves cancer patient Patricia Henley, awarded $51.5 million by a San Francisco Superior Court jury in 1999. Judge John Munter reduced the verdict to $26.5 million two months later, saying it was still enough to punish Philip Morris for misleading the public about the dangers of smoking and for marketing cigarettes to teen-agers.
Munter had denied the company's request for a new trial, saying the evidence supported the jury's conclusion that Philip Morris ``over the course of decades has avoided, concealed, suppressed and failed to disclose information known to it concerning the addictive and harmful properties of its product.''
Henley's lawsuit was the first tried in California since the repeal of a 1987 law that protected tobacco companies against lawsuits by individual smokers.
Lawyers for the woman said that, even if Philip Morris' argument is correct, Henley may be entitled to damages from injuries suffered from the time she began smoking as a teen-ager until the 1987 law went into effect.
``I wish they would just stop making cigarettes,'' Henley said Tuesday.
Henley, 55, of Los Angeles, started smoking Marlboros at 15. She smoked three packs a day until 1997, when she quit because of coughing fits and other health problems. She was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.
Noting that there were no warnings on cigarette packages when she started smoking, Henley accused Philip Morris of hooking her on cigarettes while concealing their harmful and addictive nature.
Philip Morris had argued that it was not responsible for Henley's decision to smoke and never claimed cigarettes were safe. The company said there was no evidence that she started smoking or continued to smoke because of Marlboro ads or any statements by Philip Morris.
The largest award in a California tobacco case came in June when a Los Angeles jury awarded cancer patient Richard Boeken $3 billion in a case against Philip Morris Inc. A judge earlier this month reduced the award to $100 million; Boeken signed an agreement accepting that award and it was filed with the court Monday. Philip Morris can still appeal.