Tobacco Lawyer: Verdict Has Little Impact
MIAMI (Reuters) - The lead lawyer for the world's biggest cigarette company said on Friday U.S. tobacco companies were not likely to pay anything on a $145 billion jury judgment for 75 years or longer.
``The verdict cannot become final for decades, until after the trials of several hundreds of thousands class members have been completed,'' Philip Morris lawyer Dan Webb told a news conference.
``It has been estimated that that could take approximately 75 years if the State of Florida makes the commitment and assigns approximately 100 judges and starts hearing the cases now.''
Tobacco lawyers have consistently criticized the trial plan in the Engle class action case, saying it was unfair and impractical to consider punitive damages for 500,000 or more sick smokers in Florida without first deciding actual damages in individual trials.
``The deck was truly stacked against us,'' Philip Morris lawyer Dan Webb said at a news conference. ``However, we are pleased there is little practical impact on Philip Morris, my client.''
Philip Morris, whose Marlboro and other brands account for half the 20 billion packs of cigarettes sold each year in the United States, was ordered by six Miami jurors to pay $73.96 billion as its share of the stunning $145 billion verdict against America's biggest cigarette companies.
In Winston-Salem, N.C., meanwhile, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. said it is confident the $145 billion jury judgment will be overturned on appeal and said the company plans to file an appeal at ``the appropriate time.''
``Today's unrealistically high punitive award in the Engle trial is the latest example of why this case is so likely to be overturned upon appeal,'' Daniel Donahue, senior vice president and deputy general counsel for Reynolds Tobacco, said in a statement. ``It exemplifies the legal problems that have riddled this case from its inception.''
Donahue said that the tobacco industry's grounds for appeal were too numerous to list, but said the fundamental issue of whether smokers should be treated as a ``class'' would be at the heart of the appeal.
A U.S. jury said on Friday that R.J. Reynolds alone was to pay punitive damages of $36.28 billion to smokers in Florida.