Smoke Trial Expert Testimony Barred
MIAMI (AP) - Bennett LeBow, the chief executive of Liggett Group Inc., broke ranks with the rest of the tobacco industry three years ago to say smoking is deadly and addictive.
Now his competitors want to keep him off the stand or severely limit what he can tell jurors in a landmark class-action case covering 300,000 to 700,000 sick Florida smokers.
The smokers are seeking a potential multibillion-dollar punitive damages verdict to punish Liggett and four other tobacco companies for decades of misconduct. The industry has argued no money should be awarded based on changes adopted by cigarette makers under a $254 billion commitment to settle state lawsuits.
Philip Morris attorney Dan Webb warned Wednesday of ``an end-of-the-world scenario'' if LeBow were allowed to testify broadly about his change of attitude.
``There is no question the contrast to the other tobacco companies is extraordinary,'' Webb told Circuit Judge Robert Kaye.
Webb suggested keeping Liggett witnesses off the stand for now, having the jury reach a verdict on the other four cigarette makers and bringing the jury back to hear from people like LeBow.
Smokers' attorney Stanley Rosenblatt called it ``one of the worst suggestions I've heard in a long time.''
Kaye promised to consider both issues Thursday.
The other defendants previously lost an attempt to go on trial without Liggett, claiming an almost adversarial relationship on the same side.
Liggett in 1997 settled lawsuits with what then were just 22 states suing the industry, turning over thousands of secret documents concerning smoking's health risks to use as evidence against its competitors.
The jury already has decided the industry makes a deadly, defective product and awarded $12.7 million in compensatory damages to three smokers.
Smokers' witnesses have testified the industry can raise $150 billion to $157 billion to pay a punitive award.
Besides Liggett and Philip Morris, the other defendants in the case are Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co. and the industry's defunct Council for Tobacco Research and Tobacco Institute.