Phillip Morris "willful, malicious, sneaky" - Jury Awards Victim's Family $81 Million
PORTLAND, OR --- In the biggest liability verdict ever against the
tobacco industry, a jury ordered Philip Morris to pay $81 million Tuesday to the
family of a man who died of lung cancer after smoking Marlboros for four decades.
The victory by the wife and children of Jesse Williams was the second
major hit against Philip Morris this year. A San Francisco jury awarded $51.5
million last month to a Marlboro smoker who has inoperable lung cancer (story).
The jury awarded $1.6 million in compensatory damages and $79.5 million in punitive damages.
"It will make the stocks go down," said Gary Black, an industry analyst
with the New York brokerage firm Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. "This will persuade
the industry to start thinking the tide may be turning."
The Williams family alleged the company knew its cigarettes could cause cancer. Testimony
portrayed Williams, a former janitor with the Portland school system, as a three-pack-day
Marlboro smoker who believed the manufacturer wouldn't sell a harmful product and who was
heavily addicted to nicotine.
Williams died in 1997 just five months after he was diagnosed with small-cell
carcinoma of the lungs. He was 67 and left behind a wife, Mayola, and six adult children.
Family members hugged their lawyers after the verdict was read, but had no immediate comment.
The 12-member Circuit Court jury, which included three smokers and four former smokers,
spent a little more than two days reviewing a month of technical and often conflicting
testimony from experts in such areas as cancer diagnosis, radiology and the chemistry of tobacco smoke.
In closing arguments in the Portland case, attorneys for the Williams family cited
internal Philip Morris documents to bolster their claim that the company long knew
about the cancer-causing potential of cigarettes and hid that information from its customers.
Raymond Thomas called the tobacco company "willful, malicious, sneaky" in its efforts to
keep smokers hooked.
Cofer said Williams was well aware that smoking could harm his health and
had been warned of that by doctors and family members. Cofer dismissed claims that
Williams was addicted to nicotine as "psychobabble." The
lawyer said Williams could have quit "if he'd wanted to badly enough."
The tobacco industry reached a $206 billion legal settlement with states in
November, but cigarette makers still face individual and class-action claims.
Source: SmokeFree Educational Services, Inc., Excerpts from The Associated Press
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