CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After deliberating for about four hours, jurors sided almost entirely with tobacco companies Wednesday in a case that involved hundreds of West Virginia smokers.
During the nearly four-week trial, plaintiffs tried to convince jurors that tobacco companies R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, American Tobacco Co., Philip Morris and Lorillard were negligent, designed a defective product or fraudulently withheld information about their products.
"It's virtually a complete defense victory," said Jeff Furr, attorney for R.J. Reynolds.
The jury of five women and three men did not find evidence that punitive damages should be awarded. They also decided cigarette companies weren't negligent designing testing or manufacturing their cigarettes, didn't fail to warn smokers and, among other things, didn't intentionally conceal evidence regarding the dangers of smoking.
The plaintiffs proved one of six claims. The claim said that all ventilated filter cigarettes manufactured and sold between 1964 and 1969 were defective because of a failure to instruct.
"Those are the lights and ultra lights," said Kenneth McClain, the lead plaintiffs' attorney. "It's actually a victory in a tobacco case. It's very rare that a jury finds the defendants at fault. Usually, it's automatically the smoker's fault."
McClain estimates about 100 out of 700 individual claims will be tried as a result of Wednesday's verdict.
However, Furr said, the resulting individual claims are "very narrow."
"It's a five-year time period in the '60s and brands very few plaintiffs smoked," he said, giving the Carlton brand as an example.
McClain argued during the trial that tobacco companies should've instructed smokers not to cover ventilation holes in cigarettes, noting they often would end up covered by lipstick. He also said smokers were fooled into thinking light and ultra light cigarettes were less risky.
Philip Morris USA released a statement from its Richmond, Va., headquarters on the verdict. "We believe that the jury appropriately rejected the plaintiffs' claims for design defect, negligence failure to warn, breach of warranty and concealment and refused to find that any of PM USA's conduct warranted punitive damages."
It continued, "Although we disagree with the jury's verdict on this narrow claim, in the event that any plaintiff chooses to pursue this claim [the company] has strong defenses."