Criticizes recent verdict against tobacco companies in Cipollone Case, appealing to common sense of courts, free choice exercised in all areas of society, and calling tobacco liability suits "abuses of our judicial process." Notes new Surgeon General's Report stating "cigarette smoking is addictive...is based on no new scientific evidence." Indicates "Split verdict/Small reward Op-ed B; first draft; June 2, 1988" (variation of Bates 2021194398).
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Split Verdict/Small Reward Op-ed B
June 2, 1988
A PYRRHIC VICTORY
Everybody wants something from the nation's tobacco
companies. Smokers who contract cancer want payment for the
choice they made to smoke. Lawyers encourage them. They
want their contingent fees for clogging the courts with
their liability cases. The anti-tobacco lobbyists want
their faces on the evening news.
So who is going to stand up for the issue of free choice?
Clearly the last reso,rt is the courts and public common
Since the first such action in 1954', more than 300 product
liability suits have been filed against tobacco companies.
Until this week's verdict in the case of Rose Cipollone in
Newark, 15 had gone to trial, and not one resulted in a
judgment against a tobacco company. Indeed, to date, no
tobacco company has ever paid one penny in damages or as a
settlement to a plaintiff in a product liability action.
If the appellate courts remain bastions of common sense over
emotion, this will continue to be the case as the tobacco
companies pursue their right of appeal -- a right they will
exercise until they win.
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But there is one aspect of this verdict the six plaintiff
law firms that represent the vast majority of tobacco
liability suits could not have missed: they didn't really
win. The Cipollone attorneys invested about $3 million in
time and money to bring this case to court. The award of
$ is anything but a return on that investment. And
because (the tobacco companies/company) are confident that
the verdict will be overturned on appeal, even that sum. is
Thils is by no means an indictment of the jury verdict in the
Cipollone case. The nature of the court's actions from the
start of the case, the restrictions on the nature of charges
and the rulings on evidence imposed from the bench left the
jury with only the narrowest possible grounds on which to
render a decision:.
We are confident that had the jury been able to see the
forest for the trees, it would have concluded, as has every
jury hero.re it, that tobacco liability suits are by their
very nature abuses of our judicial process.
In the broadest terms, jurors who have been allowed to
consider the full range of issues have unfailingly concluded
that smokers, as is the case of those who eat red meat or
drink milk high in cholesterol, have made a free choice.
We live in a society of risk. It is dangerous to cross the
street in heavy traffic, dangerous to consume quantities of
wine or spirits, dangerous at times to jog in the park.
Each of us makes personal choices that the rewards of our
actions outweigh any of the risks. Ours is a society of
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We do. insist on being informed about the risks. And it is
clear that anyone living in 20th century America has been
informed of the claimed risks of smoking. Certainly, Rose
Cipollone was informed. Testimony in her trial established
that she read widely, that she was shown articles by her
husband, indeed, changed her brands as new information
The suggestion has been made that Rose Cipollone could not
quilt -- that as the Surgeon General of the United States
proclaimed this month., cigarette smoking is addictive. Yet
he freely admits in his report that this conclusion is based
on no new scientific evidence.
So we return to the basic issue of Rose Cipollone -- an
individual who made a free choice, freely arrived at that
she enjoyed smoking. Now, attorneys like Marc Edell come
along with the claims that the tobacco companies should pay
for this choice, just as dairy farmers and meat producers
should pay heart attack victims who consume cholesterol.
Where will such lawsuits end? When. can the courts be
allowed to return to the real business of dispensing Justice
for which they were established? Hopefully after the
appellate court has had an opportunity to review the record
in the case of Rose Cipollone and after contingent-fee
attorneys realize they are looking in the wrong place for
their pot of gold.
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Families like those o.f the Cipollones should not be preyed
upon by contingent-fee lawyers who dangle promises of untol, d
riches from sympathetic juries as compensation for years of
tedious judicial procedures. Such lawyers and their clients
should not burden the American system of justice.
It's time we returned a sense of perspective and balance to.
world of liability law. The truly aggrieved and injured
should have their day in court. But for the rest, the feed
trough should be sealed forever.