Smoker Wins Philip Morris Suit
LOS ANGELES (AP) - A longtime smoker with lung cancer who won a record $3 billion damage award said Thursday he believed the tobacco industry's claims that smoking was harmless.
Attorney Michael Piuze smiles Wednesday after a jury awarded more than $3 billion to his client, Richard Boeken, a lifelong smoker who suffers from lung cancer.Richard Boeken, 56, was awarded $3 billion in punitive damages and $5.5 million in general damages Wednesday by a Superior Court jury. The jury found against tobacco giant Philip Morris Cos. Inc. on all six claims of fraud, negligence and making a defective product.
``I believed the tobacco industry,'' Boeken said Thursday on NBC's ``Today'' show. ``I didn't believe they would lie about the facts that they were putting out on television and radio.''
The award is the largest judgment against a cigarette maker in a lawsuit brought by an individual. Philip Morris said it plans to appeal.
Michael Piuze, Boeken's lawyer, argued that his client was a victim of a decades-long tobacco industry campaign to promote smoking as ``cool'' while the company concealed the serious dangers of smoking.
``I hope other lawyers step forward,'' Piuze said after the verdict. ``I hope it's given them a ray of hope.''
Boeken, of Topanga, smiled and gave a thumbs-up sign as the verdict was read. He later said the size of the award had taken him by surprise.
``I almost fell out of my chair,'' he said on ``Today.''
The largest judgment against the tobacco industry in a class-action lawsuit was $145 billion awarded last year to thousands of sick Florida smokers. Philip Morris was one of five tobacco companies in that case.
Boeken took up cigarettes at age 13 in 1957 - years before warnings were put on cigarette packs - and said he smoked at least two packs of Marlboros every day for more than 40 years. He was diagnosed in 1999 with lung cancer, which has spread to his lymph nodes, back and brain.
Attorneys for Philip Morris didn't deny that smoking caused Boeken's illness but argued he ignored health warnings and chose to smoke despite the risk.
``We recognize Philip Morris is an unpopular company. It makes a dangerous product, but clearly the evidence does not support this verdict,'' said company attorney Maurice Leiter.
He said the company believes Boeken ignored ``a mountain of information'' about the health risks of smoking and chose to continue his habit.
Juror Denise Key said the size of Wednesday's award was designed to hurt Philip Morris, and to make the company ``take notice.''
``We want them to be responsible, to put on their product that the product will kill so when you smoke you smoke at your own risk,'' she said.
But some attorneys said the verdict may not pass a new test adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court for awarding of damages.
``The punitive damage award has to bear some relationship to compensatory damage,'' said attorney Michael Hausfeld, who sued tobacco companies in May, claiming they violated federal racketeering laws to hook children on cigarettes.
``Clearly here the punitive award is an expression of total outrage and I'm not sure under the Supreme Court test for a single individual that kind of a differential would be upheld,'' Hausfeld said.
Boeken had sought more than $12 million in compensatory damages such as medical bills and lost earnings, and between $100 million and $10 billion in punitive damages.
But Piuze said his client, who has been given six months to a year to live, is not particularly interested in collecting the money.
``I don't think Mr. Boeken cares very much right now what's going to happen to the proceeds here,'' Piuze said. ``He cares that he's taken a shot at Philip Morris and it's landed.''
Investors responded to the news by sending shares of Philip Morris down $1.75, or 3.5 percent, to $48.25 in trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
The verdict was the latest in a series of tobacco industry courtroom losses. Earlier this week, a New York City jury found tobacco companies liable for deceptive business practices, ordering them to pay an insurance company up to $17.8 million to treat ailing New York smokers.
There have been six earlier cases in which plaintiffs won individual awards since the mid-1990s, said Richard Daynard, a law professor and chairman of the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston.
Only one of those plaintiffs has actually received any money, a 70-year-old ex-smoker who got $1.1 million from Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. after a 1995 jury award. The company is appealing the verdict to the Supreme Court, but was ordered to make the payment.
Three others are being appealed, while the other two have been overturned.