Tobacco jurors wanted to send message, report says
MIAMI, July 15 (Reuters) - The jurors who slammed the tobacco industry with a $145 billion judgment for injuring Florida smokers said they did it to punish the cigarette makers for lying about the dangers of smoking for decades, a newspaper reported Satur
``You can't just say you're sorry after 50 years,'' Gary Chwast, 30, told the Miami Herald.
``This case was not about (choosing to smoke.) It's about if you know you're making a defective product, and these companies knew that,'' he said. ``You don't try to hide that for 50 years.''
The four men and two women who served on the Miami-Dade Circuit Court panel for two years on Friday returned the largest punitive damage award in U.S. history.
The $145 billion judgment against the industry for injuring hundreds of thousands of smokers included $73.96 billion against a subsidiary of Marlboro-maker Philip Morris Cos. Inc., the biggest U.S. cigarette company.
But the judgment, in a class-action lawsuit filed in 1994, was likely to have little immediate effect on the companies, which make most of the 20 billion packs of cigarettes consumed each year in the United States, because appeals could take years.
In earlier phases of the trial, the six jurors decided that the cigarette companies were liable for the lung cancer and some 20 other ailments among an estimated 500,000 or more unidentified smokers in Florida and awarded $12.7 million in compensatory damage to three class representatives.
``We all thought we needed to send a strong message based on the evidence,'' jury foreman Leighton Finegan told the Herald. ``The message was sent.''
Chwast, a postal worker, said the lawyers representing the tobacco companies were insulting, offering no credible evidence that the firms could not afford such a judgment. The companies claimed at trial that a large verdict could bankrupt them.
``I'm not an idiot. The CEOs are making millions. Why are they making so much if the companies don't have the money? What are you not telling me? It offends me,'' he said.
The jurors took just over four hours to reach the verdict, but Finegan defended the swift judgment.
``There was no sense of animosity toward any one company. But in light of the evidence presented to us that showed for the past 50 years these companies have lied, hidden information and burned documents, that makes me angry,'' Finegan, an elementary school vice-principal, said.
``I hope it sends a strong message for all companies in America that they can't fraudulently represent anything to the public,'' he said.