Sunday, February 22, 2009
Tobacco Industry Loses Crucial Court Case
Jury awards $8 million to widow of addicted smoker.
In a court decision that attorneys for Philip Morris called “profoundly flawed,” a Florida jury last week awarded $8 million to the widow of a man who died of lung cancer, ruling that nicotine addiction was the cause of his death.
Attorneys for Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, argued in Hess v. Philip Morris USA that the deceased man had been fully aware of the dangers of smoking, and had been fully capable of quitting, had he chosen to do so.
Philip Morris will most certainly lodge an appeal, given that the closely-watched “Hess case” is the first of an estimated 8,000 similar cases filed in Florida in the wake of a class-action suit against cigarette makers in 1994. In 2006, the class-action suit was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court, which ruled that smokers had to prove in individual court cases that cigarettes were the immediate cause of their health problems.
Attorneys for the widow, Elaine Hess, argued that Philip Morris sold cigarettes that were “defective and unreasonably dangerous,” according to a Miami Herald report by Patrick Danner. Phillip Morris attorneys argued that smoking had simply been a “lifestyle choice” for Stuart Hess. Hess, the tobacco lawyers asserted, voluntarily chose not to follow the advice of family members and doctors, who told him to quit smoking.
According to the Miami Herald report, Hess “tried various means to quit smoking, including hypnosis, Nicorette gum and even going cold turkey. But all of his attempts failed.”
While technically the Hess case has no bearing on the individual court cases to come, attorneys said it was expected to serve “as a template for the other cases,” Danner wrote in the Herald article. Murray Garnick, a senior vice president and associate general counsel for parent company Atria, said in a press release that the verdict was the result of “an unconstitutional and profoundly flawed trial procedure. Fundamental fairness requires the plaintiff to establish basic liability before a jury can award damages.”
Photo Credit: http://snus-news.blogspot.com/2008_01_06_archive.html
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