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Fla Court Overturns Award to Smoker

June 22, 1998

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ An appeals court on Monday threw out a $750,000 verdict won by a smoker two years ago, ruling the lawsuit was filed too late.

The 1996 verdict in Jacksonville was only the second time in 40 years of anti-smoking litigation that a tobacco company was ordered to pay damages. Since then, the industry has lost only one other case, also in Florida.

Grady Carter, 68, sued Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., blaming it for the lung cancer he developed after smoking for 44 years. A jury in Jacksonville in 1996 ruled that the cigarettes were a defective product and that their makers were negligent for not warning people of the danger.

But the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled 3-0 that the lawsuit ``was filed more than four years after Grady Carter knew or should have known ... that he had a smoking-related disease.″

Even if Carter had sued on time, the appeals court said, the verdict would have been reversed because of a 1969 federal law that bars lawsuits that argue that the wording of the cigarette warning label is inadequate.

Carter said he was disappointed but not surprised. ``It is hard to beat the tobacco companies.″

He said he would talk with his attorney, Norwood ``Woody″ Wilner, to ``see where we go from here.″

Wilner could not be reached for comment Monday at his Jacksonville law office.

Tom Bezanson, Brown & Williamson’s appeal attorney, said the company was ``gratified that the court of appeals has applied the law in this case.″

The company also pointed out that the court agreed with all appeal issues raised by the company, including a ruling that the trial judge allowed irrelevant evidence.

On June 10, in another lawsuit brought by Wilner, a jury in Jacksonville ordered B&W to pay nearly $1 million to the family of a man who died after smoking Lucky Strikes for almost 50 years.

It was the biggest liability verdict ever against the industry, and the third time a jury had awarded damages in a smoking liability case. It was also the first time a jury ordered punitive damages _ intended to punish and deter wrongdoing _ because cigarettes are inherently dangerous.

The first jury award against a tobacco company in a liability case was won in 1988 by the family of Rose Cipollone of New Jersey. But that $400,000 verdict was overturned on appeal, and the lawsuit was dropped.

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