Tobacco attorneys attack in bid for mistrial ruling
Philip Morris attorney Brad Lerman accused the plaintiffs' lawyer, Stanley Rosenblatt, of proposing that jurors can make the industry pay far more than its actual worth in punitive damages -- up to $300 billion.
Fearing a potential multibillion-dollar judgment, attorneys for the nation's biggest cigarette makers urged a Miami judge on Wednesday to declare a mistrial in the landmark Florida smokers' lawsuit against the tobacco industry.
In 16 different allegations, they told state Circuit Judge Robert Kaye that the smokers' attorney, Stanley Rosenblatt, has violated Florida law: first, by suggesting to jurors that they can punish the tobacco companies by ordering them to pay damages over many years -- much like homeowners pay their mortgages.
Philip Morris attorney Brad Lerman also accused Rosenblatt of proposing that jurors can make the industry pay far more than its actual worth in punitive damages -- up to $300 billion. He reminded the judge that state law requires jurors to consider only the tobacco companies' current ability to pay such an award to the estimated 500,000 sick smokers.
``That is a totally improper gesture for him to be making in front of the jury,'' Lerman told Kaye, without jurors in the courtroom. ``There is only one remedy here, your honor, and that is a mistrial.''
Rosenblatt, along with his lawyer wife, Susan, countered that tobacco lawyers were trying with their tactics to sabotage the 2-year-old class-action case -- the first such tobacco case in the nation to go to trial.
``This has been totally twisted and distorted,'' Susan Rosenblatt told the judge.
Kaye did not say when he would respond to the industry's mistrial motions. The trial is expected to reach a climax next week with closing arguments, followed by the jury's verdict before the end of the month.
A year ago, the six jurors found Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, Lorillard and the Liggett Group liable for deceiving the public about the addictive nature of cigarettes.
In April, the jurors found that the industry harmed three people among the Florida class of sick smokers and awarded them $12.7 million for medical expenses and other compensatory damages.
They are: Angie Della Vecchia, who died of lung cancer; Frank Amodeo, an Orlando businessman who suffers from throat cancer; and Mary Farnan, a nurse from the Gainesville area who underwent surgery for lung and brain cancer.
Rosenblatt, the plaintiffs' attorney, argued that the tobacco lawyers filed their new motions for mistrial because they have no defense for what he said was the industry's fraudulent behavior.
He accused the lawyers of constantly mentioning the industry's $254 billion settlement with state governments across the country to suggest to jurors that their clients have been punished enough.
``They violated that a hundred times during this trial,'' Rosenblatt said.
And he reminded Kaye that the judge himself has reprimanded the tobacco lawyers on this issue, saying the settlement is actually a ``voluntary agreement.''
Indeed, all the tobacco companies agreed to reimburse the states over a 25-year period for the cost of treating poor and indigent smokers under their Medicaid insurance program. The settlement has nothing to do with the Florida smokers' case, which is being closely watched by Wall Street.
Lerman, the lawyer for Philip Morris, took umbrage at the Rosenblatts' counterattacks, saying the tobacco industry would have to pay the punitive-damages bill right away if it loses on appeal. ``Someday, when it does have to be paid, we will have to pay at once,'' he said.