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Decision May Be Imminent in Ex-Smoker's Case

March 27, 2000|Associated Press

Jurors in a San Francisco court are likely reach a decision this week on whether to award punitive damages against the nation's two largest tobacco companies to a dying ex-smoker. The lawyer for Leslie Whiteley and her husband asked jurors for $115 million in punitive damages, saying the cigarette makers remain unrepentant for the harm they cause. The Superior Court jury has already awarded $1.7 million to the couple. The jury began deliberation Friday on punitive damages and planned to continue today. Lawyers for Philip Morris Cos. and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. said they have already gotten the message, noting the $206-billion settlement reached in 1998 by cigarette makers and 46 states suing over health costs. Philip Morris attorney David Hardy suggested punitive damages of two to three times the amount awarded so far, or $3.4 million to $5.1 million. Reynolds lawyer Jeffrey Furr did not propose an amount. Unless the jury awards a substantial amount, plaintiff attorney Madelyn Chaber countered, "they'll be breaking out the bottles of Scotch in the boardroom, toasting the fact that they got away with it again." Deliberations began after 3 1/2 days of testimony and arguments about the companies' conduct and finances, factors they must consider in deciding on punitive damages. Votes of nine of the 12 jurors are needed for a verdict. The verdict in Whiteley's favor last Monday was the first for a smoker who started smoking after 1969, when surgeons general warnings first appeared on cigarette packages.

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