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Deliberations began Thursday in the case of a former flight attendant who says she got emphysema from cigarette smoke in airline cabins. Attorneys for Marie Fontana, who doesn’t smoke, charged that her medical condition was aggravated by smoky air in the TWA jets she flew from 1973-96, when she retired on disability. Hers was the first of what could be thousands of cases to go to trial. The 59-year old Boca Raton, Fla., resident attended only three days of her three-week trial. She is a lung-transplant candidate who requires a 24-hour oxygen feed through a nose tube and portable tanks. Circuit Judge Thomas Wilson instructed the jury that, as a matter of law, secondhand smoke causes disease in healthy nonsmokers. In closing arguments Thursday, Fontana’s attorneys relied on the testimony of two radiologists who said she has obstructive airway diseases that can be caused by secondhand smoke. Tobacco attorneys contended that Fontana has only sarcoidosis, a disease that medical authorities say has no known cause. They dispute her claim she also has emphysema and chronic bronchitis, caused by smoking. Fontana’s request for compensatory damages is the first to go to trial of claims generated by the industries $349 million settlement of a national class action lawsuit by nonsmoking flight attendants. The settlement left it up to the attendants to sue individually for damages. More than 3,200 attendants have filed lawsuits in Miami for medical costs, pain and suffering. After the jury left the courtroom Thursday morning to begin its work, the judge denied an industry request for a mistrial based on his including in his instructions the fact that thousands of other attendants have damage claims pending as well. The defendants are Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson and Lorillard. Smoking on U.S. airlines was banned on domestic flights in 1990 and on international flights in 1997. Fontana flew mostly international routes. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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