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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Jurors' verdict is simply unrealistic

Sunday, October 6, 2002

Smokers and their silly lawsuits against tobacco companies are in the news again this week. It seems a California jury (where else?) has awarded the obscene amount of $28 billion in punitive damages against Philip Morris in favor of a longtime former smoker. That jury has to rank among the most asinine group of people ever assembled on this planet.

Of course, the award will be reduced on appeal. That much is certain. But why make a farce of the judicial system with this laughable verdict?

For starters, smokers - and unfortunately I count myself among their ranks - should obviously know that smoking is not a healthy pursuit. There may indeed be an argument that tobacco companies hid the extent of the health issue from the public and for that they should and have paid handsomely. But smoking, like other activities in this life, is a voluntary action. No one has ever held a gun to my head and forced me to light a cigarette. Same holds true for all smokers.

But because of the nature of smoking a new cottage industry has been born within the legal community. There's big bucks so lawyers flock to the trough. But when you read of $28 billion judgment you simply have to shake your head in amazement.

Just how silly do you want to go. Can everyone killed in an airplane accident expect to receive $28 million or so. Same argument holds here. Airplanes can be dangerous but you don't see the airlines marketing that to consumers. It's just a ridiculous assumption gone amuck in a society prone to litigation. Surely you remember the lawsuit against the fast food industry because some slob overeats himself into obesity?

The tobacco companies should be held to some level of responsibility for not fully explaining to the public the true danger of their product. But should they be forced from business as a result? You can carry this discussion to the extremes and that is exactly what is happening.

I fault smokers first and foremost. Smoking is dangerous or potentially so and everyone who grabs that first cigarette fully understands that. And then - here's a twist - I fault the government for their lukewarm actions when the dangers of smoking were unraveled. And at the end of the food chain, I fault the manufacturers for marketing a product in the manner they did. I also fault retailers who through the years consistently sold this product to youngsters and don't tell me they didn't. I know better and you do too.

Only in California would a jury bring the system into this embarrassing position. But then again folks, it is California after all.



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