CHARLESTON - A jury has found that approximately 700 plaintiffs in a nearly four-week long mass litigation tobacco trial proved only one of six claims after it deliberated for four hours.
A Kanawha County jury on Wednesday found that the plaintiffs proved their claim that all ventilated filter cigarettes manufactured and sold between 1964 and 1969 were defective because of a failure to instruct, according to a story by The Associated Press story.
Lead plaintiffs' attorney Kenneth McClain told the Associated Press the verdict is a victory because juries in tobacco cases rarely find the defendants at fault.
The cases were filed on behalf of the plaintiffs against Philip Morris USA Inc.; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company; American Tobacco Co.; Brown & Williamson Holdings Inc.; and Lorillard Tobacco Company after the plaintiffs claimed they were harmed by tobacco use.
Jurors heard closing arguments Tuesday and deliberated for approximately four hours before reaching the verdict.
The jury did not find evidence that punitive damages should be awarded and that the five tobacco companies were not negligent in designing, testing or manufacturing cigarettes; did not intentionally conceal evidence regarding the dangers of smoking; and did not fail to warn smokers.
Philip Morris released a statement, stating it believed the jury appropriately rejected the plaintiffs' claims for design defect, negligence, failure to warn, breach of warranty and concealment.
"The plaintiffs prevailed only on the narrow claim that ventilated cigarettes between 1964 and July 1, 1969 should have included instructions on how to properly use them," said Murray Garnick, Altria Client Services senior vice president and associate general counsel, speaking on behalf of Philip Morris USA.
“Today’s decision may allow some individual plaintiffs to move forward with their individual cases. However, only those individuals who smoked ventilated filter cigarettes between 1964 and 1969 may pursue claims and those individuals will be required to show a link between the failure to instruct and their injuries. Although we disagree with the jury’s verdict on this narrow claim, in the event that any plaintiff chooses to pursue this claim, PM USA has strong defenses."
Senior Status Judge Arthur Recht presided over the trial.
The litigation is similar to the way tobacco claims are being handled in Florida.
Florida citizens who saw a large tobacco class action verdict struck down in 2006 by the state Supreme Court were allowed to re-file their individual claims.
The Engle decision overturned a $145 billion punitive damages award for a class of smokers suing the tobacco industry but allowed members of the class to file their lawsuits individually.
Before a deadline, 4,500 suits were brought on behalf of those who died from a tobacco-related diseased or suffered from one before Nov. 21, 1996.
Individual lawsuits have resulted in multimillion-dollar verdicts for former Engle class members.
The U.S. Supreme Court allowed a $28.3 million verdict against R.J. Reynolds to stand in March 2012, though a Florida appellate court vacated an $80 million verdict in April 2012. It ruled that $72 million in punitive damages was excessive.