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Secondhand Smoke Damage Award Slashed

Tobacco: A judge calls a $5.5-million judgment won by a flight attendant for persistent health problems 'shocking' and cuts it to $500,000.

September 14, 2002|From Reuters

A Miami judge Friday slashed by 91% a $5.5-million award to a flight attendant claiming injury from secondhand smoke, saying the size of the compensatory damages was shocking.

Philip Morris USA, a unit of Philip Morris Cos. and one of the main defendants in the case decided in June, welcomed the reduction but said its lawyers would appeal the remaining $500,000 award to a higher court.

The ruling, which an attorney for plaintiff Lynn French said may be challenged, is the latest setback for flight attendants pressing claims from a $350-million settlement with Big Tobacco of a class-action suit in Miami.

The 1998 settlement gave no money to the flight attendants but allowed nonsmoking attendants to seek compensatory judgments for injuries they claim were caused by cigarette smoke aboard aircraft. Lawyers for tobacco companies argue that the ailments have other causes.

Another Miami jury last week cleared cigarette makers of liability in a lawsuit brought by a former American Airlines flight attendant who has bronchitis, asthma, lung problems and the ongoing nose and sinus ailments called sinusitis.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Fredricka G. Smith said Friday that the chronic sinusitis that French, 56, blamed on tobacco smoke aboard the jets she flew on during the 1970s and 1980s, before a 1990 ban on cigarettes was put in place, had weighed lightly on her life.

The judge acknowledged French's surgery, persistent discomfort and use of medications but said French "continued to work as a flight attendant, full time, while successfully balancing her duties as a mother and wife."

Smith said, "In view of the evidence of the plaintiff's pain and suffering, the award of $5.5 million is, indeed, shocking."

One of French's attorneys in Miami, Marvin Weinstein, said he was studying Smith's 12-page ruling and may seek a new trial solely in regard to damages.

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