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Jury Selection Begins in Brooklyn Tobacco Suit

November 27, 2000|Associated Press

A lawsuit filed with little fanfare three years ago in Brooklyn, N.Y., has emerged as the latest flash point in the high-stakes legal battle between the tobacco industry and opponents who claim it conspired to conceal the dangers of smoking. Today, attorneys will converge in a Brooklyn courtroom to begin picking jurors for a two-month trial pitting a trust fund for sick asbestos workers against R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson and other tobacco giants. Attorneys for the plaintiffs say damages could exceed $3 billion. The trial is the first out of a backlog of about a dozen tobacco claims in federal court in Brooklyn, some filed under civil provisions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Unlike class-action suits filed by consumers, most of the Brooklyn cases were brought by third parties, including health-insurance groups who want Big Tobacco to share the cost of treating patients with cigarette-related illnesses. In this particular case, the plaintiff is a trust made up of blue-collar workers and their heirs. It was formed in 1988 after the nation's largest asbestos maker, Johns-Manville Corp., went bankrupt amid an avalanche of suits brought by plaintiffs suffering from asbestos-related ailments. Among the witnesses expected to testify is Lorillard Tobacco Co. Chief Executive Martin Orlowsky.

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