Jury Rules Against Flight Attendant in Tobacco Case
A Miami, Fla., jury decided yesterday that a former flight attendant who contended that she developed several illnesses from secondhand smoke in planes should not be awarded money damages from the tobacco industry, the Miami Herald reports. The case of Marie Fontana was the first trial against the industry stemming from a 1997 settlement with 60,000 flight attendants. Under the agreement -- in which the industry paid $300 million to establish a secondhand smoke research center -- the flight attendants were awarded no money but given the right to sue the industry individually, and so far 3,200 attendants have filed lawsuits in Florida. The settlement also stipulates that each of the attendants, none of whom ever smoked, "must prove that secondhand smoke caused one of five cited respiratory illnesses: lung cancer, pulmonary disease, bronchitis, sinusitis or emphysema." The Miami jury decided that this burden had not been met, as one of the jurors in the case told the Herald that "[t]here was not a lot of evidence to support [Fontana's] suit against the tobacco industry," adding, "It was hard. Maybe in another case it will be different."
Attorneys for the four defendants -- tobacco companies Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard and Brown & Williamson -- applauded the decision, but William Ohlemeyer, chief counsel for Philip Morris, cautioned against viewing the verdict as a "bellwether" for future flight attendant lawsuits. Fontana's situation is considered by many observers to be "unique" because she suffers from sarcoidosis, a "mysterious blood-clogging lung disease" whose cause is unknown (Weaver, Miami Herald, 4/6). Fontana's lawyers argued that she also suffered from emphysema and chronic bronchitis, but industry attorneys contended that she only had sarcoidosis (Wilson, AP/Salt Lake Tribune, 4/6). Jonathan Engram, the lead tobacco lawyer, said, "Science persevered in this case. Environmental tobacco smoke did not cause her damages. ... It's very significant to start off with this victory" (Miami Herald, 4/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.