Jury: Tobacco Cos. Cleared in Death

by Ashley H. Grant, Associated Press Writer
Copyright 1998 The Associated Press
March 19, 1998

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) -- The tobacco industry is not liable in the cancer death of a nonsmoking nurse exposed to secondhand smoke at a veteran's hospital, a jury decided Thursday.

The jury of six nonsmokers said that cigarettes were not a defective product and that their makers were not negligent for failing to tell people that secondhand cigarette smoke was dangerous.

Philip Wiley was seeking at least $13.3 million in compensatory damages from six tobacco companies and two industry groups for the 1991 death of his wife, Mildred. The jury also could have recommend millions more in punitive damages.

The lawsuit was believed to be the first blaming secondhand smoke in an individual's death to reach trial. About 100 simliar cases are pending in the nation's courts.

Mrs. Wiley, 56, died a month after she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Her husband says she inhaled smoke constantly during her 17 years as a nurse in the psychiatric ward of the Veteran's Administration hospital.

The sequestered jury deliberated about 19 hours over two days. The trial entered its sixth week Monday in Muncie, about 60 miles northeast of Indianapolis

``I was so disappointed with the verdict but it will have to stand,'' Wiley said outside the courtroom.

Joe Young, one of Wiley's attorneys, said despite the verdict, the trial accomplished some of what the plaintiff had wanted.

``The cause does not end. We filed the lawsuit back in 1993 to let the public know the dangers of secondhand smoke,'' he said.

Wiley's attorneys attempted to show that tobacco companies were aware of the danger of secondhand smoke for decades and tried to cover it up.

Industry attorneys said there is no proven connection between secondhand smoke and cancer. They also said Mrs. Wiley's cancer may have had other causes and could have started in her pancreas, then spread to her lung.

``The only explanation for this verdict is that the jury found that environmental tobacco smoke is not a cause of lung cancer or cigarettes are not a defective product,'' said Jeffrey Furr, one of the tobacco industry's attorneys.

Mary Aronson, a tobacco policy and litigation analyst in Washington, had said the case could have had more impact than other tobacco liability cases because Indiana law is more conservative than other states.

Congress is reviewing a proposed $368 billion national settlement between the industry and 40 states.

The industry recently settled a $348 million class-action suit filed by flight attendants against the tobacco industry. The attendants blamed their illnesses on the air they breathed on smoky airliners.

In January a federal judge approved the $15.3 billion settlement between Texas and the tobacco industry, the largest monetary settlement in U.S. legal history.

The industry settled state lawsuits with Mississippi and Florida last year worth a combined $14.4 billion.

Elsewhere, the state of Minnesota is midway through a trial seeking to recover $1.75 billion in medical costs for treating smoking-related illnesses.

The defendants in the Muncie case were Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Philip Morris Inc., The American Tobacco Co., Lorillard Tobacco Co., and the Liggett Group Inc. Also named in the suit are the Tobacco Institute and the Council for Tobacco Research.

Material presented on this home page constitutes opinion of the author.
Copyright © 1998 Steven J. Milloy. All rights reserved. Site developed and hosted by WestLake Solutions, Inc.