Philip Morris Not Responsible for Smoker’s Lung Cancer, Los Angeles Jury Rules
A Los Angeles County Superior Court jury yesterday found tobacco company Philip Morris USA not liable for a former smoker's inoperable lung cancer, the Los Angeles Times reports. In the suit, 64-year-old California resident Fredric Reller alleged that Philip Morris advertisements contained misleading information about the health risks and addictiveness of its tobacco products. Reller accused Philip Morris of fraud, negligence, failure to warn and marketing a defective product. Reller smoked Marlboro or Benson & Hedges Menthol cigarettes, both Philip Morris products, for about 40 years and quit when he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2000. Reller's lawyer, Michael Piuze, had asked jurors to award his client $17 million in compensatory damages and find Philip Morris guilty of malice. In his arguments, Piuze presented "piles of documents" in an attempt to portray Philip Morris as "callous, deceitful and determined to maximize profit" at the expense of its customers' health, according to the Times. In addition, Piuze argued that Reller was a conservative businessman who was distrustful of the government and more likely to believe statements from tobacco industry executives regarding the risks of smoking. Beth Wilkinson, Philip Morris' lead attorney, challenged that argument and said that knowledge of the risks of smoking is "well-embedded in American culture" and that Reller was not "living under a rock." Jurors deadlocked, on a 6-6 vote, on one of the three claims of fraud, which could mean a retrial on that count (Levin, Los Angeles Times, 8/1). Piuze said he hoped his client could win the remaining count. "One verdict is enough to get us compensation and punitive damages," Piuze said (Veiga, AP/Contra Costa Times, 8/1).
The ruling in favor of Philip Morris is a "rare ... victory" for the tobacco industry in the "hostile legal environment" of California, the Wall Street Journal reports. In 2001, a jury ordered Philip Morris to pay $105 million to a former smoker, and in 2002, another jury ordered the company to pay $29.5 million to a former smoker. Both of those awards are currently on appeal (O'Connell et al., Wall Street Journal, 8/1). In addition, two other "big ... victories" for former smokers in cases in San Francisco have "established a reputation for California courts as a killing ground for Big Tobacco," the Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 8/1). David Adelman, an analyst for Morgan Stanley, said, "This is a very important development. It is going to go a long way to discouraging legal attacks [against tobacco companies] on the West Coast" (Wall Street Journal, 8/1).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.