Brown and Williamson
A state Circuit Court jury in Jacksonville, Florida awarded $750,000 to a man who got lung cancer after smoking for 44 years. It was only the second time that a plaintiff was given a monetary award in a liability case against a tobacco company ("Tobacco company loses suit over cancer," New & Observer (Raleigh, NC), August 10, 1996, p. A1).
The jury said on August 9 that the cigarettes were defective and that their manufacturer, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company, was negligent for not telling the public how dangerous they were. Grady Carter, 66, smoked Lucky Strikes and sued their maker for $1.5 million. "Somebody needed to take these people on," said Carter. "A lot of people are dying of lung cancer." Thomas Bezanson, an attorney for Brown & Williamson, said he expects to file an appeal.
The only other monetary award in a cigarette liability case was won in 1988 by the family of Rose Cippollone of New Jersey. A jury awarded her family $400,000, but the award was overturned on appeal and the suit was dropped in 1992. The tobacco industry has not been forced to pay anything in at least 19 other tobacco liability suits.
Brown & Williamson had argued that Carter was aware of the dangers of smoking. "He continued smoking Lucky Strikes because he liked them," said tobacco company attorney Bruce Sheffler in closing arguments. Sheffler said it was Carter's right to smoke and his right to determine when to quit. Under the cigarette warning label law, cigarette companies cannot be held liable after 1970, the year in which cigarette warning labels were changed, for disease that they caused.
The jury reviewed medical articles and other technical documents entered into evidence in order to resolve their questions about liability, according to jury foreman, Sam Gaskins. Gaskins, 60, said jurors were impressed with the internal tobacco company memoranda entered into evidence, "documents they had not revealed and ... were not as public as they could have been."
Investors sold off tobacco industry stocks on word of the award. "This is a severe blow to the industry," said Allan Kaplan, a tobacco stock analyst with Merrill Lynch. "We knew that when you keep running cases, some jury is going to vote in favor of the plaintiff."