Massive W.Va. tobacco trial ends suddenly

John O'Brien Nov. 9, 2011, 3:00pm


WHEELING, W.Va. (Legal Newsline) - The trial of more than 700 West Virginia claims against the tobacco industry ended in a mistrial Tuesday.

Ohio County Circuit Court Judge Arthur Recht was presiding over the trial, in which the plaintiffs alleged harm caused by Philip Morris Tobacco, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and Lorillard. The three hid the addiction capabilities of cigarettes, the plaintiffs allege, and Courtroom View Network was broadcasting the trial online.

CVN researcher David Siegel said the defendants objected to a piece of evidence the plaintiffs wanted to introduce. Apparently, he said, the plaintiffs could not proceed without it.

The mistrial ended the first of two trials. It was to determine if the companies are liable for injuries and deaths caused by smoking, and the second would have determined the amount of damages in each individual case.

"They were actively concealing the information that they had and I think that will justify your finding in this case that they were reckless and intentional, and that a future jury like this one should have the opportunity to consider, depending on the circumstances, punitive damages," plaintiffs attorney Ken McClain told the jury during the trial, according to CVN.

Had the tobacco companies been found liable, it would have started a situation similar to the one going on in Florida.

After the Florida Supreme Court overturned a $145 billion punitive damages award to a class of smokers but allowed class members to re-file their claims individually, multimillion-dollar awards have been handed out around the state.

One such award -- $17.5 million - was the largest in the history of Alachua County history, and the state Supreme Court declined in July to hear the appeal of R.J. Reynolds of a $28.3 million verdict against it.

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