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PRODUCTS LIABILITY Big tobacco must pay to help smokers kick habit New Orleans (AP)-A state court jury has ordered the tobacco industry to pay $590 million for nicotine patches, telephone hot lines, advertising and other programs to help Louisiana smokers kick the habit. Legal experts believe that the May 21 verdict in the class action Scott v. American Tobacco Co., No. 96-8461 (Orleans Parish, La., Dist. Ct.), marks the first time a jury has found that tobacco companies should pay for such programs. “This case is unique and certainly a major precedent that I’m sure the tobacco industry is very concerned about,” said Edward L. Sweda, senior attorney for the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston. “They’re concerned about other states trying to copy this litigation.” Tobacco lawyers said they would immediately appeal, and the case could drag on for years before any money is actually spent on the programs. The next and final phase of the trial will determine how the programs will run, but that portion cannot begin until appeals of the ruling are complete. Plaintiffs’ lawyers expect a drawn-out battle during the appeal, but they said the verdict still represented an important victory for smokers. “For the first time ever in this country, a jury has awarded a comprehensive smoking cessation program, not dollar damages,” lawyer Joseph Bruno said. “Instead, the jury approved what is needed to help those addicted to smoking.” The verdict covers hundreds of thousands of Louisiana residents who smoked before the mid-1990s, when the suit was filed. None of the smokers can get individual damages. The plaintiffs had wanted the programs to last up to 25 years, but jurors set them at 10 years. The verdict came in the second phase of a lengthy trial. In July, the same jury found that cigarette makers had deceived the public with an addictive product and schemed to market cigarettes to children. It rejected calls for medical monitoring for current and former smokers, but said the industry should provide free smoking-cessation programs. The current phase was to determine how much the industry should spend on the programs and what those programs should be. The third phase-to determine how the programs will work-will be held without the jury. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. attorney Phillip A. Wittmann said he would argue in an appeal that the Louisiana case should have been halted before the May 21 ruling. “This case was certified as a class action to answer one question: Whether cigarettes and nicotine are defective products,” Wittmann said. When jurors found that they were not defective, the case should have stopped there, he said. The jury heard about two months of testimony and deliberated for three days before returning the verdict. The defendants are R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard, Philip Morris USA and Brown & Williamson. MEDICAL MALPRACTICE Jury awards $30 million to brain-damaged teen Cleveland (AP)-A Cuyahoga County jury has awarded $30 million to a 17-year-old boy whose brain was damaged at birth, finding that his doctors failed to give him and his mother proper care when she was in a difficult labor. The verdict in favor of Walter Hollins of Cleveland, who has the mental capacity of a 1-year-old, is the largest ever awarded in the county. The jury ruled on May 24 that Dr. Ronald Jordan and the medical staff at the now-defunct Mt. Sinai Medical Center were negligent at the boy’s birth on Jan. 29, 1987. Jordan’s attorney, Joseph Farchione, said he will appeal the verdict, which he said wasn’t supported by the evidence. “Dr. Jordan provided good care to Walter and his mom,” Farchione said. “This child’s injuries developed in utero well before the delivery.” Witnesses testified that the flow of oxygen was cut off to Walter’s brain while his mother, Regina Harris, waited for more than two hours to receive an emergency Caesarean section. Walter has cerebral palsy and can’t use his arms or legs. His condition is incurable. “No amount of money can change the way my son is today,” said Harris, 35, a single mother and Walter’s sole caregiver. “But this will definitely help me to be the best mother that I can be, and I am very grateful to the jury.” Attorney Geoffrey Fieger of Southfield, Mich., sought $35 million, calling the circumstances of the birth some of the most horrific he had ever seen. Although Mt. Sinai no longer exists, a $77 million insurance fund remains to be tapped for damages, Fieger said. He and Harris said they are resigned to spending several years defending the verdict on appeal. The previous record jury verdict in Cuyahoga County was $17 million. PREMISES LIABILITY Jury awards $17 million in teen’s fatal bar fight Birmingham, Ala. (AP)-A state court jury awarded $17 million to the family of a teenager killed in a bar fight. The Jefferson County Circuit Court jury on May 20 held the bar liable in the death of 18-year-old Jake Fry of Mount Olive, Ala. Jurors determined that the High Note Lounge Inc., operating as the Rock ‘N’ Horse on Southside, served alcohol to minors, including the victim. Fry died after a fight at the bar early on Dec. 9, 2001. He had been stabbed. Attorneys for Fry’s family showed that no one checked the identification of Fry and his friends, most of whom were 18 or younger, when they went to the bar. A jury last year convicted Zeke Sawyer of Birmingham of murder in Fry’s death. Sawyer was sentenced to life in prison and ordered to pay $3 million to Fry’s family. Efforts to reach an attorney for the bar were unsuccessful.

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