Tobacco Industry Wins California Jury Verdict
After a string of four big courtroom losses, the tobacco industry won its first jury verdict in California since 1998, when the antismoking state began allowing lawsuits against cigarette companies.
A state Superior Court jury in Sacramento found Friday that Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris USA unit and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc.'s R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. unit weren't responsible for causing a smoker's rare type of lung cancer.
The companies' victory is a sign that the industry may have found a strategy to help it at least limit the damage from litigation on the West Coast, where juries have repeatedly assessed enormous awards against them.
The lawsuit was brought by Laurence Lucier, a 52-year-old former smoker with lung cancer, and his wife, Laurie. Mr. Lucier charged that smoking caused his illness and said the cigarette makers were negligent and had misrepresented the dangers of smoking.
The Luciers' case was originally filed in San Francisco, a liberal city that has become known as a hostile jurisdiction for cigarette makers, but lawyers for Reynolds and Philip Morris had it moved to Sacramento. After this verdict, the tobacco companies are likely to redouble their efforts to move cases out of San Francisco and Los Angeles to parts of the state where they believe jurors will be more receptive to their arguments.
The companies may also try to move cases from state court to federal court. A federal judge in Oakland last month threw out a case against Philip Morris, saying that, given the evidence, no reasonable jury could find the cigarette maker responsible for the smoker's death.
Gary M. Paul, a lawyer for the Luciers, said that his client had a rare form of lung cancer and that jurors he spoke to after the verdict said they "were unable to convince themselves" that it was related to smoking.
Tobacco-industry lawyers were pleased with the jurors' decision. "Of course we are delighted that the jury ruled the way it did," said Daniel W. Donahue, senior vice president and deputy general counsel for Reynolds.
As of 4 p.m. Friday in New York Stock Exchange composite trading, Altria Group's shares were up nine cents to $37.62 each, while shares of R.J. Reynolds were down 39 cents to $40.65 each.