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US: Jury Rules for Philip Morris

by  Myron LevinLA Times
April 22nd, 2005

A Riverside jury Thursday absolved Altria Group Inc.'s Philip Morris USA of responsibility for the lung cancer of a longtime Marlboro smoker, ruling that he hadn't proved that his illness was caused by smoking.

Bruce Coolidge, 51, a former truck driver who lives in Moreno Valley and began smoking at the age of 12, had accused the nation's top cigarette maker of negligence and fraud for distorting the risks and addictiveness of smoking. But the jury never got to the issue of Philip Morris' conduct, instead deciding unanimously that Coolidge had not proved that he suffered from a type of small-cell cancer typically caused by smoking.

The Riverside County Superior Court jury deliberated less than three hours before issuing its verdict and ending a 10-week trial in which Philip Morris had argued that Coolidge suffered from atypical carcinoid cancer, which is not usually associated with smoking.

Coolidge, who attended part of the trial in a motorized wheelchair, could not be reached for comment. But one of his lawyers, Shawn F. Khorrami, said that the verdict was disappointing and that rulings by Judge Roger Luebs to exclude certain evidence had harmed Coolidge's case. Khorrami said no decision had been made on whether to appeal.

In a statement issued by Philip Morris, William S. Ohlemeyer, vice president and associate general counsel, said "the jury came to a prompt decision that was clearly compelled by the evidence they heard."

The verdict continued the industry's winning streak in California in lawsuits filed by individual smokers. Between them, Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. have come out on top in five straight trials in California after juries dealt them six huge West Coast defeats.

Just last month, Philip Morris was forced to pay more than $16 million to Patricia Henley of Glendale after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal.

A $21.7-million award in 2000 to Leslie Whiteley, who died of lung cancer shortly afterward, was reversed by a California appeals court three years later. The four other plaintiff victories two in California, two in Oregon are in various stages of appeal.




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