Risks clear for Florida smokers, tobacco lawyers say
MIAMI, Nov 2 (Reuters) - A lawyer defending R.J. Reynolds Tobacco against potentially massive punitive damages in a Florida class-action case on Tuesday said a plaintiff who fell victim to lung cancer had been reminded of the risks of smoking every time s
As he displayed an oversized rendering of the health warnings that have appeared on cigarette packs for the past 33 years, attorney Ben Reid said plaintiff Mary Farnan, 44, had been surrounded by information and examples of smoking's risks in her family, schooling and work as a nurse.
Reid's remarks came as he opened the defense for cigarette makers found liable July 7 for the illnesses of as many as 1 million sick Florida smokers. The industry is now facing a penalty-fixing phase of the case and the possibility of $300 billion to $500 billion in damages
``She knew they were called cancer sticks, coffin nails,'' said Reid, adding that a doctor treating her father in 1978 had told her his coronary illness came from smoking.
Farnan is one of two people whose cases are the first follow-ups to the pioneering, year-long class-action trial which yielded last summer's sweeping liability verdicts against America's biggest cigarette makers.
Reid said she was not addicted and could have stopped smoking during the 30 years. Farnan, who began smoking at 11, did give up smoking in 1996 after being diagnosed with lung cancer, which has since spread to her brain.
``She liked to smoke. She never really wanted to quit,'' Reid told jurors in a Miami courtroom.
Reid, after displaying a signboard showing the health warnings on cigarette packages required by the U.S. government since 1966, also said the tobacco companies would dispute the alleged link between Faran's type of lung cancer and cigarette use. Her ailment may be tied to tuberculosis or other causes, he said.
Dan Webb, representing Philip Morris Cos. Inc., also took up the defense of personal responsibility, an argument denied the tobacco industry by the trial judge in the first phase of the Engle class action but which has protected cigarette makers against decades of other sick-smoker lawsuits.
Frank Amodeo, the second plaintiff, also knew the health risks of cigarettes as he smoked Marlboros made by Philip Morris between 1996 and 1987, when he was diagnosed with throat cancer, Webb said.
``From 1966 on, every package of Marlboro that he bought told Mr. Amodeo that smoking was hazardous to his health,'' Webb said.
Plaintiffs attorney Stanley Rosenblatt on Monday told the jurors -- the same six who handed down the July 7 verdicts against cigarette makers -- that Farnan and Amodeo had been misled by tobacco company advertising and public statements and had become addicted to cigarette smoking .
Faran and Amodeo, who sat silently beside Rosenblatt, are seeking compensatory damages from the cigarette makers. But the trial judge, Robert Kaye, has also ruled that the jury can assess punitive damages for the entire class, a possible lump-sum award that could cripple the prosperous tobacco industry.