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Big Tobacco won another legal battle when a West Virginia jury rejected a class action lawsuit that sought to force tobacco companies into providing free medical checkups for a quarter-million smokers. But a leading tobacco foe said the verdict will not dissuade smokers in other states from bringing similar legal action. “I expect that lawyers who are seriously considering this are not going to be deterred by one verdict in one location,” said Edward L. Sweda Jr., senior attorney for the Tobacco Products Liability Project at the Northeastern University School of Law in Boston. R.J. Reynolds attorney Jeff Furr said the verdict represents “a turning of the tide.” R.J. Reynolds was one of four tobacco companies involved in the suit. “This industry has been under assault for years. You can’t just keep piling it on,” said Furr, who has prevailed in five of the six tobacco lawsuits he has tried. “This is a case where the jury said, ‘Enough is enough.’ “ After 10 hours of deliberations and a trial that had spanned several months, the jury rejected a claim for an industry-funded medical screening program for healthy smokers. It was the first lawsuit of its kind to be tried in the United States; a similar case is pending in Louisiana. Lawyers for some 250,000 healthy smokers had argued that cigarettes are defective, and that four tobacco companies have done little to make them safer. The jurors, all but one of whom is a former smoker, concluded that cigarettes are not defective. Nor were Reynolds, Lorillard, Philip Morris and Brown & Williamson negligent in designing, making or selling cigarettes, they said. Jurors agreed with the plaintiffs that smokers with a five-year, pack-a-day habit have a higher risk of contracting disease, but they said those people don’t need medical monitoring. “It came down to, ‘If you smoke, stop. If you don’t smoke, don’t start,’ ” said jury foreman Mark Burris, echoing words delivered by nearly every medical witness who appeared. Ohio County Circuit Judge Arthur Recht expects an appeal of the verdict and has gone to great lengths to make sure that all objections were preserved in detail in the court record. Because few states have recognized the legal concept of medical monitoring, many are expected to examine the case closely. The half-dozen states that now recognize the right to sue for future damages have all done so within the past decade, Recht said. Sweda found hope in some of the jury’s findings. They concluded that smokers do have a higher risk of disease, and that the tests the smokers had proposed were capable of detecting disease early. Copyright 2001 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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