Resources: Fun Book | Help Book | Web Book 
  • Today's News Section
  • Senate Campaign 2000
  • Columnists
  • Obituaries & Death Notices
  • Queens Edition Articles
  • Health/Science & Weekly Discovery Section
  • Newsday's Student Briefing on the News
  • Associated Press
  • Traffic Advisories
  • Weather
  • Soapbox Forum
  • Presidential Race 2000
  • Series & Special Sections
  •   SPORTS

    Last 7 Days
    LI History

  • FutureCorps
  • Newsday In Education
  • Names of New York
  • Long Islander of the Century
    Today's Paper
    Today's Newsday

    Hola Hoy
    Spanish Language Paper

    News/Sports Webcasts


    11/27/2000 - Monday - Page A 17

    Big Tobacco Burning Again
    Jury selection begins in latest class action

    A lawsuit filed with little fanfare three years ago in Brooklyn has emerged as the latest flashpoint in the high-stakes legal battle between the tobacco industry and opponents who claim it conspired to conceal the dangers of smoking.

    Attorneys are to begin picking jurors today for a two-month trial pitting a trust fund for sick asbestos workers against R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson and other tobacco giants.

    Attorneys for the plaintiffs say damages could exceed $3 billion.

    The trial is the first from a backlog of about a dozen tobacco claims in federal court in Brooklyn. Unlike class-action suits filed by consumers, most of the Brooklyn cases were brought by third parties, including health insurance groups that want Big Tobacco to share the cost of treating patients with cigarette-related illnesses.

    In the trial, the plaintiff is a trust made up of blue-collar workers and their heirs. It was formed in 1988 after the nation's largest asbestos maker, Johns-Manville Corp., went bankrupt amid an avalanche of suits brought by plaintiffs suffering from lung disease linked to asbestos.

    The trustees, much like the plaintiffs in the record $145 billion verdict won by Florida smokers, accuse the tobacco industry of putting profit before public health. They allege cigarette companies are liable because they concealed medical evidence that "smoking, an activity indisputably dangerous to human health in and of itself, is even more lethal to individuals occupationally exposed to asbestos." The trust represents "hundreds of thousands of people who were exposed to asbestos," said Peter Bicks, a Manhattan attorney for the trustees. "The trust does not have enough money to satisfy their claims." A jury could hear opening arguments as early as Dec. 4.

    Among the witnesses expected to testify are tobacco executives like Lorillard chief executive Martin Orlowsky and experts like Dr. Julius Richmond, a former surgeon general who testified in the Florida case that the tobacco industry refused to cooperate with government efforts to reduce smoking disease and deaths.

    David Bernick, an attorney for Brown & Williamson, said the defense will try to convince jurors that unlike asbestos makers, the tobacco companies never conspired to hide health risks from workers. He characterized the suit as an "unjust and unfair" bid by the trust "to put more money in the till." All of the Brooklyn tobacco cases have been assigned to U.S. District Judge Jack B.

    Weinstein, who has tried to steer lawyers toward negotiating a nationwide settlement of all tobacco cases.

    But defense attorneys so far have resisted Weinstein's prodding.

    "We don't think there's a legal basis for these claims, so we have no reason to settle," Bernick said. The tobacco industry also believes that settlements "only tend to breed more litigation," he added.

    Still, some observers believe a Brooklyn jury could change some tobacco defendants' minds about settling.

    The case "is important because Judge Weinstein has made it clear he wants to do something big," said Richard Daynard, a Northeastern University law professor who has worked with attorneys suing tobacco companies. "If the case is successful, it will give him more to work with in terms of a global settlement."

    Complete Classifieds Shops of Long Island Find A Business Doing Business
    How to Subscribe
    How to Advertise
    About Us
    Contact Us
    Copyright © Newsday, Inc. Produced by Newsday Electronic Publishing.