The jury in Los Angeles failed to award damages to 64-year-old Frederic Reller, who smoked for nearly 50 years, although the panel did find that his illness was caused by smoking.
But after six days of deliberations, the panel said they did not believe Reller’s claim that he relied totally on what Philip Morris and the tobacco industry told him about the link between smoking and lung cancer.
The former smoker had sought damages for medical bills that amounted to 309,849 dollars, plus unspecified damages, in the lawsuit that alleged product liability, misrepresentation and negligence.
But the eight women and four men could not decide on one of seven questions put to them on the verdict form: whether Philip Morris concealed the health risks of smoking. The judge declared a mistrial on that claim.
Philip Morris, a unit of the giant Altria conglomerate, claimed the decision as a major victory in its rolling series of legal battles involving former smokers.
The firm’s vice president, William Ohlmeyers, said the jury had “heard clear and compelling evidence that Reller was well aware of the risks of smoking and was responsible for the smoking decisions he made.”
|“Philip Morris was faced with having to decide between ‘lives or money’. They chose money.”
— Reller’s lawyer Michael Piuze
“It’s a resounding victory for Philip Morris,” said the company’s attorney Beth Wilkinson outside the court. “We’re thrilled with the jury verdict.”
During the trial, Reller’s lawyer Michael Piuze said Philip Morris, which also makes such brands as Benson and Hedges, knew of the dangers of tobacco but were faced with having to decide between “lives or money.” “They chose money,” he said.
Piuze alleged in Reller’s case that Philip Morris conspired to hide the dangers and addictiveness of smoking from the public.
But Wilkinson rebuffed the accusations, saying Reller, a smoker since 1955, had been addicted to smoking long before he started smoking Philip Morris’ cigarettes and must also have known of the dangers of smoking.
Reller, who smoked Philip Morris’ Marlboro brand, sued the company in November 2001, about a year after he was diagnosed with cancer, claiming the company misled him about the health risks of cigarettes.
Both the lawsuit-besieged tobacco industry and its opponents had been watching closely because Reller’s lawyer Michael Piuze had won two high-profile suits that set new records for damages to ex-smokers.