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The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"Today's verdict is historic"
 real 28k

The BBC's Malcolm Brabant
"The figures announced by Judge Robert Paul Kaye were astronomical"
 real 28k

Greg Maxwell, Florida lawyer
"The trial judge has the discretion to lower the amount"
 real 28k

Saturday, 15 July, 2000, 00:48 GMT 01:48 UK
Smokers' $145bn court victory
Hug in court
Plaintiffs who have lost relations to smoking celebrate
A Miami jury has ordered America's big cigarette manufacturers to pay out nearly $145bn for knowingly causing smoking related illnesses - the biggest damages awarded in a personal injury lawsuit in US legal history.

The damages
Philip Morris: $73.96bn
RJ Reynolds: $36.28bn
Brown & Williamson (part of British American Tobacco Plc): $17.59bn
Lorillard Tobacco Co: $16.25bn
Liggett Group Inc: $790m
Council for Tobacco Research: $1.95bn
Tobacco Institute: $278,339
Five US tobacco firms were found guilty last year of knowingly selling products that caused illnesses to users. Damages were also awarded against two research bodies funded by the tobacco industry.

However the landmark verdicts may have little immediate effect as lawyers for the tobacco companies have said they will appeal against the decision - a process that could take many years.

The case was a class action taken on behalf of 500,000 to 700,000 smokers in the state of Florida who have suffered from heart disease, lung cancer and some 18 other smoking related ailments.

Tobacco wars
  • The US legal battle
  • Tobacco economics
  • Smoking goes global
  • Cigarette health file
  • Timeline: the tobacco war
  • The five tobacco companies named in the suit - Philip Morris, RJ Reynolds, Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp, Lorillard Tobacco Co and Liggett Group Inc - have also settled cases in 50 US states, requiring them to pay an estimated $246bn over a 25-year period.

    'Lots of zeros'

    "Lot of zeros," was the comment from circuit court Judge Robert Kaye while reading the breakdown of damages against each of the defendants.

    Defence lawyers leave court
    Defence lawyers say they will appeal
    Lawyers for the tobacco industry had said that the five companies could afford to pay only $150m to $375m, and that the companies would be put out of business if the award went much higher.

    Under Florida law, a punitive verdict cannot bankrupt a defendant.

    The jury in the case has already awarded $12.7m compensation to three representative smokers.


    There's probably not a country in the world that can withstand a verdict this size

    Defence lawyer Dan Webb
    Dan Webb, defence lawyer for hardest-hit firm Philip Morris, said tobacco companies would be litigating the individual claims of the sick Florida smokers for many years and were unlikely to pay anything for 75 years or even longer.

    "The verdict cannot become final for decades, until after the trials of several hundreds of thousands of class members have been completed," he said.

    He said Philip Morris was "extremely confident" that the case would be overturned on appeal.

    Misleading the public

    Six thoughtful courageous Americans listened quietly and carefully to testimony for close to two years, and damn it, they did the right thing

    Stanley Rosenblatt, lawyer for the plaintiffs
    The prosecution maintained in court that the tobacco industry's advertising completely undermined its anti-smoking programmes for youth, and misled the public about health risks.

    Plaintiffs' lawyer Stanley Rosenblatt, who had filed the class action in 1994, had asked the jurors for damages as high as $196bn for what he said were 50 years of misconduct and injuries to hundred of thousands of smokers.

    Stanley Rosenblatt
    Prosecution lawyer Stanley Rosenblatt: Jurors did the right thing
    After the verdict, Mr Rosenblatt said: "It was a day of reckoning. Six thoughtful courageous Americans listened quietly and carefully to testimony for close to two years, and damn it, they did the right thing. They did the right thing!"

    The six jurors deliberated for just under five hours before reaching a decision. During the two-year trial they have heard 157 witnesses.

    Frank Amodeo, a throat cancer sufferer and one of the three main plaintiffs in the suit, said he thought the ruling was "fair and just".

    "The company is selling a product that they know (is) harming people... No company will do this again."

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    See also:

    14 Jul 00 | Business
    Big tobacco takes a hit
    14 Jul 00 | Americas
    Timeline: The tobacco war
    29 Feb 00 | Americas
    Tobacco company considers regulation
    15 Oct 99 | Americas
    The US tobacco wars
    17 Nov 99 | Europe
    Tough EU tobacco laws planned
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