S.F. Judge Upholds Tobacco Verdict
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - A judge Wednesday refused to grant two tobacco companies' request that he overturn a $21.7 million jury verdict against them in the case of a dying smoker.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge John Munter ruled Wednesday that Philip Morris Inc. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. received a fair trial, that the verdict was legal and was supported by the evidence.
Philip Morris said it would appeal the decision to an appellate court.
Jurors found March 20 that the smoker, Leslie Whiteley, 40, of Ojai in Ventura County, was the victim of negligent cigarette design, false and misleading statements and the companies' efforts to conceal smoking's dangers.
Doctors expect Whiteley to die of lung cancer this year.
Tobacco firms argued that Whiteley was to blame for her disease because she ignored warning labels or decided she could disbelieve them.
The verdict was the nation's first in favor of a smoker who took up the habit after surgeon general's warnings started appearing on cigarette packs in 1966.
Whiteley started smoking in 1972 and testified she thought smoking was safe because companies promoted it and the government allowed it.
The damages included $1.7 million for compensation to Whiteley and her husband, and $20 million in punitive damages.
The cigarettes couldn't have been negligently designed because they were legal products whose dangers were well known, said H. Joseph Escher, a lawyer representing both companies, said in his request to the judge to overturn the verdict.
He also said there was no evidence Whiteley would have smoked a safer cigarette if one had been available. Furthermore, he argued that the fraud verdict was unfounded because there was no evidence that Whiteley heard or relied on a false statement by either company.