Tobacco Use Is The Leading Preventable Cause of Death In The United States
On July 14, 2000 jury in Miami, Florida, United States awarded a class-action lawsuit representing cigarette smokers a remarkable $144.8 billion punitive award against the tobacco industry. It is clear that the jurors involved in the case did not expect this award to stand. Their actions were unique however in a number of regards:
This was the largest award in the American history of jurisprudence.
As explained by the jury foreman “Lies, misrepresentations” angered jurors. “We thought it was fair. It would bring to the forefront, for the first time in the history of this country, the issues surrounding this product and the millions of lives that have been affected by this. And it would put the companies on notice- not just the tobacco companies- concerning fraud or misrepresentation of the American public. “They committed fraud. They lied to the American public. They devastated millions of lives” (Star Tribune, July 16, 2000).
The Miami jury brought in its decision after only five hours of deliberation following over two years of courtroom testimony. A Yale Law School Professor observed “I am perfectly willing to believe that the industry has done all the things that the jury believes it has done.” “But, as a constitutional matter this is a terrible way to govern ourselves. To let six people decide how society should punish a company as distinguished to simply compensating plaintiffs” (Meier B: Florida Award Clouds Future Tobacco Action in Suits, The N.Y. Times, July 16, 2000).
It is indeed unfortunate that it has been left to a humble jury to attempt to set right transgressions which should have been rightfully addressed by the medical, scientific and governmental establishments in the past. For all its faults the legal process continues to serve us all as a “safety net” for truth, morality and integrity when all else seems to fail. It took about 50 years for the tobacco industry to actually be brought to task, in a meaningful manner, for its continued transgressions against society.
What then is the present status of an almost exactly similar situation in regard to the dreadful suffering brought upon similar millions of individuals throughout the world who were given iophendylate myelograms without informed consent? These individuals had no suspicion of a harmful result as opposed to cigarette smokers who knew that their actions had significant harm to themselves (although not informed regarding the real risks). Patients totally disabled by adhesive arachnoiditis have experienced a “Berlin wall” erected by those charged with their medical, scientific and governmental protection.