Tobacco Lawyer Makes Pitch to Jury
MIAMI (AP) - Three sick smokers shouldn't be paid for smoking after the health dangers of cigarettes became a recognized part of American culture, a tobacco attorney charged in fighting their $14.4 million damage claim.
``It became embedded in this country that smoking causes health risks,'' Philip Morris attorney Dan Webb said Thursday.
He said the smokers shouldn't be rewarded for ``choosing to smoke cigarettes for many years'' even after warning labels appeared on cigarette packs.
Industry attorneys are trying to avoid paying anything to the three, who represent an estimated 500,000 Florida smokers in the first class action lawsuit against the tobacco industry to reach trial.
In closing arguments, Webb ignored the industry's long-held position that there was no proven link between smoking and disease and denials that nicotine is addictive.
The six-member jury, which already has decided the industry conspired to make a dangerous product, is expected to begin deliberating early next week.
The jury will be asked to assess the medical bills, lost income, cost of household services the smokers are unable to perform, pain and suffering from lung cancer in Mary Farnan and the late Angie Della Vecchia and throat cancer in Frank Amodeo.
Physicians and outside experts blamed smoking for each case.
The industry has offered evidence that bronchioalveolar cancer - a form of lung cancer that the jury decided is not linked to smoking - caused the women's cancers. It blamed Amodeo's cancer on industrial wood dust.
If any money is awarded, the same panel will be asked to award punitive damages to the group to punish cigarette makers. The industry fears such an award could amount to hundreds of billions of dollars.
Florida lawmakers are trying to draft a bill to require a compensatory award for all smokers covered by the lawsuit before a punitive award could be set. The trial plan is to consider a punitive award for the class if the jury returns a compensatory award for at least one of the three representative smokers.
And in North Carolina, Gov. Jim Hunt said lawmakers need to consider measures to partially protect tobacco companies from possible bankruptcy should the Florida jury award billions of dollars to smokers. Hunt called a special legislative session to be held April 5.
Outside the jury's presence, smokers' attorney Stanley Rosenblatt called the Florida lawmakers' plan ``one of the most outrageous acts in the history of legislation.''
Circuit Judge Robert Kaye said the bill was none of his business and he planned to ``do what I have to do to get this trial moving and resolved.''
The defendants are Philip Morris Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co., Liggett Group Inc. and the industry's Council for Tobacco Research and Tobacco Institute.