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Tobacco Firms Argue that Florida Damage Award Should be Overturned

Major US tobacco firms argued Monday that a record 144.87 billion dollar punitive-damage award in a landmark class action suit is "excessive" and should be overturned.

In a brief filed with Florida's Third District Court of Appeal, the state's intermediate appellate court, Philip Morris and other tobacco firms also cited "legal errors" they said were made by the Circuit Judge Robert Kaye and "improper conduct" of plaintiffs' attorney Stanley Rosenblatt.

"We believe we have provided the appellate court with a clear and pervasive picture demonstrating Philip Morris USA was not given a fair hearing in the trial court," William Ohlemeyer, Philip Morris vice president and associate general counsel said in a statement.

The brief cited "inflammatory and improper comments" by Rosenblatt, saying he equated the conduct of tobacco firms to the actions of slavery and the Holocaust, saying this invited the jurors to ignore the law.

After a two-year trial, a Miami jury awarded the punitive damages last year in a class-action suit filed on behalf of as many as 700,000 Florida residents who complained of smoking-related illnesses.

It was the largest punitive damages award in US history, and sent shock waves through the industry.

The punitive verdict followed a decision in April 2000 by the same jury that the companies were responsible for the injuries suffered by three Florida smokers, Frank Amodeo, Mary Farnan and Mary Della Vecchia. The jury awarded these three smokers some 12.7 million dollars in compensatory damages.

In the brief, the companies argued that the jury should not have been allowed to assess a punitive award in favor of class members who were never identified.

It also asked the appeals court to overturn the awards to the three individuals.

The record punitive damage award calls for Philip Morris to pay 73.96 billion dollars, R.J. Reynolds 36.28 billion, Brown and Williamson 17.59 billion, Lorillard 16.250 billion and Liggett 790 million.

Punitive damages are aimed at deterrence or punishment in addition to compensation for costs.

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