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Big Tobacco Appeals Verdict

November 27, 2001|Associated Press

MIAMI — The tobacco industry filed its appeal Monday in the trial that produced a record $145-billion verdict for sick Florida smokers, claiming pretrial decisions and the two-year trial were riddled with legal flaws.

The nation's biggest cigarette makers challenged decisions grouping all of the smokers in a single class-action lawsuit and attacked the punitive damage award as "bankrupting and excessive."

"Each of the phases of the case were infected with legal error and tainted with the misconduct of counsel," Philip Morris Cos. Vice President Bill Ohlemeyer said. The trial was tarnished by "a series of critical errors by the trial judge leading to an unconstitutional and unjust result."

The 174-page appeal is the first stage of what is expected to be a prolonged legal battle over the verdict reached in July 2000.

Attorney Stanley Rosenblatt, who represented smokers in the Miami-Dade Circuit Court trial, had no reaction to the appeal itself but expects to take longer than the standard 30 days to respond.

"It's a massive amount of material," he said.

Besides questioning the legal basis for many trial decisions, the appeal attacked Rosenblatt's trial rhetoric. Rosenblatt "compared defendants to defenders of slavery and the Holocaust" before a predominantly black jury, the industry said, citing the smokers' closing arguments in the first phase of the three-part trial.

The jury returned with findings that cigarettes were deadly and addictive, opening the door for $12.7 million in compensatory damage awards for three smokers and group punitive damages--the largest jury award ever.

The defendants are Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Lorillard Tobacco Co. and the Liggett Group.

Liggett, the smallest of the industry's five biggest companies, filed separate appeal papers that also adopted the joint court filing by the other companies.

The four largest companies settled lawsuits by 46 states trying to recover the public costs of smoking-related illnesses for $206 billion in 1998. Earlier settlements with the other four states boosted the total to $246 billion being paid over 25 years.

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