Terror attacks suspend tobacco trial until next week
WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) -- A class-action lawsuit against four tobacco companies is on hold until at least Monday while some involved wait to hear from family and associates who were in New York when two hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center.
Ohio County Circuit Judge Arthur Recht sent jurors home with only a vague explanation late Tuesday morning, telling them that events unfolding in Washington and New York "are beyond description."
"I can't even explain it," he said. "But something infinitely more important is going on today with peoples' lives that just requires us to sit back and wait."
The trial was in its second day. It involves a unique class-action lawsuit filed by healthy West Virginia smokers who want tobacco companies to create an unprecedented medical monitoring program.
Some 250,000 smokers are suing R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, Philip Morris and Lorillard. They want the companies to pay for annual tests they say could predict emphysema and other lung diseases that cigarettes are likely to cause.
Before the adjournment, lawyers on Tuesday had read jurors depositions that tobacco company executives had given in other trials. They also showed a videotaped deposition and had planned to show at least one more before the jury was dismissed.
The depositions and other documents are the foundation of the smokers' case, in which they accuse the tobacco companies of "wanton and willful" disregard for their customers' health.
The medical monitoring lawsuit, structured as a defective-product case, is the first of its kind to go to trial in the United States. It involves people who have smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for at least five years, but who have not yet developed a tobacco-related illness.
Throughout the trial, the tobacco companies will counter with their own documents, which they hope will put inflammatory statements in context.
"Standing here looking back over 50 years, I can't tell you we're proud of everything," Philip Morris attorney Sam Klein said in opening statements Monday.
"Some documents seem just silly. Some documents express ideas which are wrong. Some express ideas that are just bad -- ideas that are dumb," he said, such as one in which a scientist recommends a dummy mailing address to hide evidence of cigarette research being done in Europe.
The companies changed with the times, as more information came to light.
"Although we continued the debate too long, and some people in these companies had wrong-headed ideas, we never wavered from our efforts to develop a safer cigarette," he said.
The firms spent billions of dollars on in-house and independent research, funding Council for Tobacco Research projects that were cited 600 times in surgeon general reports, Klein said.
The smokers say the tobacco companies funded largely "irrelevant" projects that focused on such things as taste, nicotine delivery and effective packaging.