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A day after winning a blockbuster $3 billion punitive damages verdict against Philip Morris Inc., Michael Piuze was reluctant to boast. That should be worrisome to the company and to other cigarette makers because Piuze gave credit to the work of other lawyers who, he said, have changed cigarette litigation from the quixotic, bankrupting crusade of years past to something closer to an off-the-shelf suit that any good tort lawyer can bring. Piuze said he persuaded jurors with a selection of “golden documents” — once-secret industry documents made public in lawsuits by state attorneys general and others over the past several years. They detail decades of industry lies about the addictiveness and health effects of smoking, he said. He thinks his strong identification with his client, Richard Boeken, also helped him with the jury. “We are the same age. We were both two-pack-a-day Marlboro smokers,” he said. “We both started smoking at 12 or 13. I quit 20 years ago. He didn’t. I could have been him. He could have been me.” Boeken, 56, a securities dealer, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1999 after 40 years of smoking. The cancer has spread to his brain and is considered terminal. Piuze said he decided not to challenge the admission of Boeken’s past dependence on heroin, methadone and alcohol. Instead, he contrasted his client’s success in kicking those addictions with his fatal inability to quit smoking. Piuze has won one of the biggest individual verdicts in history, as well as the biggest individual tobacco verdict — by a long shot. After a trial of more than two months, and seven days of deliberations, the jury awarded Boeken $5.5 million in compensatory damages, plus the $3 billion in punitives. Piuze’s victory was just the latest in a series of verdicts that have turned a Los Angeles courthouse into a house of horrors for defendants. Two years ago, a Los Angeles jury returned a $4.9 billion verdict against General Motors Corp. at the same site. It was reduced by the trial judge to $1.2 billion and is on appeal. BIG TOBACCO’S BIG LOSSES Although Boeken’s suit was the first cigarette case to go to trial in Los Angeles, Big Tobacco has suffered three multimillion-dollar losses on the West Coast — two in San Francisco and one in Oregon. Anti-smoking advocates credit the success of state laws and educational programs that have cut smoking rates and changed attitudes in California. The trial was a first for Piuze, who is better known as a successful litigator of automobile crashworthiness cases, including a big win against General Motors in January. He went out of his way to credit the help of Madelyn Chaber and Robert Brown of Wartnick, Chaber, Harowitz & Tigerman in San Francisco, the lawyers who won the two earlier California tobacco verdicts. Piuze offered similar help to other California lawyers who want to take a run at tobacco companies, saying of his victory, “It should be a call to arms to ambitious plaintiffs’ product liability lawyers to go get ‘em.” Philip Morris Inc. did not return calls seeking comment. The company is expected to appeal.

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