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Tobacco Companies Prevail in Secondhand Smoke Lawsuit

October 05, 2002|From Times Wire Services

MIAMI — R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc., Philip Morris Cos. and other cigarette makers won a jury decision Friday that a former flight attendant's breathing problems were not caused by exposure to secondhand smoke on airliners.

A state court jury in Miami decided that the chronic sinusitis suffered by plaintiff Julia Tucker, a former US Airways Group Inc. flight attendant, was not caused by her years of working for the airline.

In addition to Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds, defendants included British American Tobacco Plc's Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. and Loews Corp.'s Lorillard Tobacco Co.

"Credible evidence does not exist to show that secondhand smoke causes chronic sinusitis in nonsmokers, even at the highest levels likely to be encountered in real-world environments," said Douglas Chumbley, R.J. Reynolds' trial attorney.

Jurors would have been barred from awarding punitive damages in the case based on a 1997 settlement of class-action claims by flight attendants. That $350-million settlement allowed individual suits seeking compensatory damages to proceed.

The settlement didn't provide money to the plaintiffs. Instead, it financed health research and paid attorneys' fees, and also gave plaintiffs legal leverage for their own suits. The settlement puts the burden of proving that secondhand smoke doesn't cause disease on the tobacco industry. About 3,000 flight attendants in the U.S. have filed individual claims.

The tobacco industry has won two prior similar cases and lost one. A Miami jury told the companies to pay $5.5 million to a former flight attendant. That award was later cut to $500,000.

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