JACKSONVILLE, Fla--In a scenario out of a recent John Grisham novel (The Runaway Jury), a Florida jury has returned a verdict in favor of a plaintiff suing a large tobacco company, causing a precipitous fall in the price of stocks of all the major tobacco companies. Philip Morris shares, for example, lost more than 10% of their value.
In Grisham's book, a biased and manipulative juror uses skulduggery to achieve the plaintiff's verdict (with equal amounts of improbable skulduggery occurring on the defendant's side) and the monetary award is astronomical ($400 million in punitive damages).
In real life, the damage award was a more modest $750,000, but just as in the book, the decision sent shock waves down Wall Street. The concern is that the case could set a precedent, opening the floodgates for similar suits against tobacco companies across the nation.
The Florida jury, in finding in favor of the 66-year-old man who developed lung cancer after 44 years of smoking, called cigarettes a defective product and found Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., maker of Lucky Strikes, negligent for not telling consumers of their dangers. The jury held that the company knew about the dangers well before the surgeon general's 1964 report. The company said the man smoked Lucky Strikes "because he liked them," and will appeal.