Tobacco Industry Denies Hiding Risk
NEW YORK (AP) - Tobacco industry lawyers on Tuesday denied allegations that cigarette manufacturers waged a decades-long campaign of deception about the heightened risk their products posed to asbestos workers.
``The tobacco companies concealed nothing,'' Alan Mansfield, an attorney for Lorillard Tobacco Co., said during the second day of opening statements at a closely watched civil trial in Brooklyn federal court.
The fraud trial has pitted a trust representing blue-collar workers, many of them lung cancer victims, and their heirs against R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris, Lorillard and other tobacco giants. The trust sued three years ago, alleging that internal documents and other evidence show the tobacco industry engaged in a conspiracy to hide and distort scientific findings that asbestos workers who smoked were five times more likely to get lung disease than the average smoker.
Attorneys for the trust - formed in 1987 to process thousands of claims by sick workers against a bankrupt asbestos maker, Johns-Manville Corp. - told a jury on Monday that Big Tobacco should help bear a multibillion dollar burden.
On Tuesday, the defense claimed there is no evidence cigarette makers sought to distort or suppress the public's knowledge about research showing asbestos and tobacco formed a ``lethal synergy,'' as plaintiffs' lawyers contend. Meanwhile, the research had been widely publicized by labor unions, the government and doctors since the late 1960s, said Philip Morris attorney George Lombardi.
``The tobacco companies said nothing about asbestos-tobacco synergy,'' Lombardi said. ``Other people were saying a lot.''
The civil case is expected to last two months. Attorneys for the plaintiffs say it could result in damages exceeding $3 billion, and improve chances for a far-reaching settlement of similar lawsuits brought by insurers and other third parties who want the tobacco industry to share the cost of treating patients with cigarette-related illnesses.
Defense attorneys say the case has no legal basis, noting that federal appeals courts have ruled that third-party plaintiffs are too remote to seek damages.
Among the witnesses slated to testify are Lorillard Chief Executive Officer Martin Orlowsky and Dr. Julius Richmond, a former surgeon who testified at a landmark Florida trial that the tobacco industry refused to cooperate with government efforts to reduce smoking deaths. The Florida case resulted in a record $145 billion verdict.