TOBACCO: Attorney Asks for $154 Billion in Miami Case
In his closing arguments in a two-year Miami trial, the lawyer representing nearly 700,000 sick Florida smokers asked jurors yesterday to require the five largest U.S. tobacco companies to pay $154 billion in damages, the Los Angeles Times reports. That amount would be the largest civil damage award on record. Plaintiffs' attorney Stanley Rosenblatt told the Dade County Circuit Court jury that a punitive-damage award of between $123 billion and $196 billion would be an "appropriate" and "just" punishment for the "harm done by the tobacco industry" to state residents who have been sickened or killed by smoking in the past 10 years, adding that he had "tried to be very conservative and very fair" in suggesting the $154 billion figure. "This industry has left a half-century trail of deceit, which has decimated millions of Americans," Rosenblatt said during his closing remarks, adding that "no industry in the history of the world has more ability to get its hands on cash, cash, cash, 365 days a year, paid for by 45 million" people who continue to smoke (Levin, 7/11). In what has become the first smokers' class action lawsuit to go to trial, the five cigarette manufacturers -- R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris, Lorillard Tobacco, Brown & Williamson and Liggett -- have argued that they should not pay more than their combined net worth of $15.3 billion. Although Florida state law stipulates that punitive verdicts may not put companies out of business, Circuit Judge Robert Kaye has refused to set a limit on damages (Wilson, AP/Nando Times, 7/10). The six-member jury that will deliberate the final lump sum damage award has already returned $12.7 million in compensatory damages to two injured smokers and the estate of a third, and is expected to award "substantial" damages to plaintiffs. But analysts predict that the jury will return significantly less that what Rosenblatt asks. "The testimony of some of the chief executives may have reduced or diluted the anger of the jurors. I am not saying it's going to be zero ... but it won't [be] at the level that Rosenblatt is seeking," Martin Feldman, analyst at Salomon Smith Barney, said (Geyelin, Wall Street Journal, 7/11). Tobacco companies will begin their closing arguments today, and the case is expected to go to the jury late this week (AP/Nando Times, 7/10).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.