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Jury Deliberates On Cigarette Asbestos Suit

November 16, 1991

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ A jury is deciding whether a Philadelphia stockbroker’s asbestos-related cancer can be traced to filters in Kent cigarettes he smoked in the 1950s.

The six-man, two-woman jury began deliberating late Friday afternoon after hearing an hour’s worth of instructions from Senior Judge Clarence C. Newcomer. Jurors adjourned without a verdict with instructions to return Monday morning.

The filters contained a form of asbestos that is considered the main cause of mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the abdomen, chest cavity and covering of the heart and lungs. The disease is always fatal.

Witnesses for 56-year-old Peter Ierardi testified that in more than 80 percent of mesothelioma cases, the disease is caused by the type of asbestos fiber found in the Kent cigarette filters.

David Hardy, an attorney for the cigarette company, Lorillard Inc., said that doesn’t prove Ierardi got cancer from the cigarettes.

″The cause is unknown,″ Ierardi said. ″Cause unknown is against human nature. But that’s what we have.″

Lorillard maintains that tests showed the level of asbestos fibers in the filters was below the danger threshold.

Ierardi’s attorney, Thomas Johnson, dismissed claims that the level of asbestos in the filter was deemed safe.

″The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) says that no safe level can be found for carcinogenic materials,″ Johnson said.

He also disputed claims by Lorillard that Ierardi may have gotten the asbestos-caused cancer in some other manner.

″Pete Ierardi took the asbestos fibers and sucked them in his mouth,″ Johnson said. ″The simplest explanation is usually the right one.

″The issue whether Pete Ierardi developed mesothelioma from asbestos is just plain medical common sense.″

In their closing arguments, defense attorneys attacked Ierardi’s memory of his smoking history. In his deposition, Ierardi said he smoked Kool filters, then switched to Kent in 1953.

″Kool filters did not exist until 1956,″ said David Hardy, attorney for Lorillard.

Ierardi also had testified some of the Kents he bought were purchased at an Air Force base where he had been stationed in the 1950s. But Andrew McElaney Jr., attorney for Hollingsworth & Vose Co., maker of the filters, said the base’s exchange didn’t carry Kents until 1956, after the filters were removed.

Johnson said the Ierardis have run up medical bills of $165,000 since the cancer was discovered in November 1989. Ierardi has also lost wages estimated between $216,000 and $498,000, Johnson said.

He also asked the jury to bring punitive damages against Lorillard, saying the cigarette filters were defective and the company marketed them anyway.

″These were calculated decisions made by top executives,″ Johnson said.

But McElaney said no one had made the connection between asbestos and lung cancer in the early 1950s.

″It was no secret that asbestos was in the filter,″ he said, pointing out that advertisements of that time touted the new filters.

″The medical association knew asbestos was in there,″ he said, ″They didn’t express concern.″

Ierardi’s suit is one of six filed by attorney Daniel Childs claiming that Lorillard was told by consultants in 1954 that Kent smokers were inhaling asbestos, but took two years to remove the deadly fiber.

The suit is the first of its kind to reach trial, according to Childs.

Courtroom Television Network covered the closing arguments Friday, sending the proceedings by cable nationwide to cities that included Pittsburgh, Denver, New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Boston.

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