Jury Decision Rattles Tobacco Company Stock Prices

September 1, 1996
Oncology NEWS International, Oncology NEWS International Vol 5 No 9, Volume 5, Issue 9

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.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla--In a scenario out of a recent John Grishamnovel (The Runaway Jury), a Florida jury has returned a verdictin favor of a plaintiff suing a large tobacco company, causinga precipitous fall in the price of stocks of all the major tobaccocompanies. Philip Morris shares, for example, lost more than 10%of their value.

In Grisham's book, a biased and manipulative juror uses skulduggeryto achieve the plaintiff's verdict (with equal amounts of improbableskulduggery occurring on the defendant's side) and the monetaryaward is astronomical ($400 million in punitive damages).

In real life, the damage award was a more modest $750,000, butjust as in the book, the decision sent shock waves down Wall Street.The concern is that the case could set a precedent, opening thefloodgates for similar suits against tobacco companies acrossthe nation.

The Florida jury, in finding in favor of the 66-year-old man whodeveloped lung cancer after 44 years of smoking, called cigarettesa defective product and found Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp.,maker of Lucky Strikes, negligent for not telling consumers oftheir dangers. The jury held that the company knew about the dangerswell before the surgeon general's 1964 report. The company saidthe man smoked Lucky Strikes "because he liked them,"and will appeal.