Tobacco Firms Not Liable in Smoker's Death--NY Jury
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A state court jury ruled on Tuesday in favor of Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and other major tobacco companies, refusing to hold them liable for the lung cancer death of a woman who smoked cigarettes for 32 years.
Tobacco company lawyers hailed the decision. But attorneys for the plaintiffs said the setback would not stop them from pressing more cases in New York against the tobacco companies, who they accused of failing to warn of the dangers of smoking and fraudulently concealing information about cigarette smoking's addictive qualities.
``We are shocked and disappointed,'' said plaintiff attorney Gary Douglas, who represented Apostolou's husband and daughter in the suit, which sought unspecified damages.
``But this is just the beginning of the fight for us,'' Douglas said. ``Juries in three other states--California, Florida and Oregon--have already found that the tobacco companies deceived the public about what they knew with respect to addition and that they were manipulating nicotine levels in order to keep people addicted.''
Late last year, the six-member state supreme court jury in Brooklyn had determined that smoking had caused the cancer that killed 45-year-old Bonnie Apostolou in 1996. But they rejected all claims against the tobacco companies, saying Apostolou had assumed the risks of smoking.
``We have more cases pending,'' Douglas said. ``We are ready and willing to carry on the flag for New York.''
Philip Morris's associate general counsel William Ohlemeyer said ``Today's verdict reaffirms that Philip Morris has tried, and is trying, to be a responsible manufacturer of what has been known for decades to be a dangerous but legal product for adults who choose to smoke.''
Analysts called the decision another victory for the tobacco industry, which has been prevailing in most of its individual, as opposed to class action, lawsuits.
``The Apostolou jury essentially concluded that the smoker, Bonnie Apostolou, had voluntarily adopted the risk of smoking over 32 years and that the tobacco industry was not responsible for fraud, conspiracy or concealment,'' said Martin Feldman of Salomon Smith Barney.
``In essence...the industry has had no punitive damages awarded against it in such cases'' since three cases in California in March of last year, Feldman said. ``The trend ...appears to be on the side of tobacco,'' Feldman added.
Apostolou died of lung cancer 17 months after being diagnosed with the disease in May 1995. She smoked from 1962 to 1995.
Also named in the suit were Lorillard Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., the Liggett Group Inc., as well as tobacco interest groups the Council for Tobacco Research and the Tobacco Institute.