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Tobacco Firm Wins in Death Suit by Family

December 23, 1985|Associated Press

SANTA BARBARA — A jury rejected the claims of the family of a dead smoker today, deciding by a vote of 9 to 3 that the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. was not liable for the man's death.

The jury, which had deliberated just under nine hours since receiving the case Thursday, returned to the courtroom with their verdict at 11:40 a.m.

Announcement of the decision came abruptly. Attorneys had been summoned to a status conference on the jury's progress, but when everyone filed into court, Superior Court Judge Bruce Dodds asked: "It's my understanding you've reached a verdict. Is that correct?"

"Yes," said the forewoman, Stacy Proft. She then handed the bailiff a signed verdict form which was read seconds later.

Polled Individually

At the request of Melvin Belli, attorney for the family of John Mark Galbraith, the judge then polled each juror individually and three of them answered, "No," when asked if this was their verdict.

In the civil case, at least nine jurors were required to agree to return a verdict, unlike a criminal case, in which the 12 jurors must reach a unanimous decision.

Seated in the courtroom's front row as the verdict was announced were three survivors of Galbraith, whose death at age 69 led to the lawsuit. He had smoked cigarettes for 54 years and suffered from lung and heart disease at his death in 1982.

Galbraith's widow, Elayne, and her two children, Carrie and Mark, showed no reaction. Another of their attorneys, Paul Monzione, smiled at them and shrugged.

One of 45 Suits

The suit was the first of 45 similar pending actions to reach a jury. A federal judge in Knoxville, Tenn., recently dismissed a $55-million liability suit against Reynolds, saying a 51-year-old amputee had not proved the company's cigarettes were "defective and unreasonably dangerous."

During deliberations in the Santa Barbara case, questions from the jurors indicated that they had started by considering whether Galbraith died of cancer or of one of his other ailments, which also included pulmonary fibrosis.

They asked to review parts of the testimony from George Fisher, the doctor who treated Galbraith.

Belli argued that Reynolds was to blame for Galbraith's death because its warnings of the dangers of smoking were insufficient.

Reynolds' attorney, Thomas Workman, told jurors that Galbraith "smoked because he loved it, he knew the risks involved and took them." He suggested that Galbraith died of hereditary illnesses rather than smoking.

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