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Jury Awards Lifelong Smoker $3 Billion

LOS ANGELES – A jury Wednesday awarded more than $3 billion to a lifelong smoker, deciding that tobacco giant Phillip Morris is responsible for his incurable lung cancer.

Richard Boeken, 56, smiled and gave a thumbs-up sign as the 18-page verdict was announced. Jurors found against the tobacco maker on all six counts of fraud, negligence and making a defective product, awarding Boeken $3 billion in punitive damages and $5.5 million in general damages.

Phillip Morris attorney Maurice Leiter said he was disappointed with the verdict and will appeal.

Boeken had sought more than $12 million in compensatory damages such as medical bills and lost earnings, and between $100 million and $10 billion in punitive damages. He declined to speak to reporters after the hearing.

Nationwide, juries have awarded damages to individual smokers only six times. Three verdicts were overturned, two are on appeal, and one was returned last month with a then-record $1.72 million in compensatory damages. The industry has yet to pay anything.

However, the industry has started paying out $246 billion in a settlement with states which sued the industry seeking to recoup costs spent on treating sick smokers. That settlement did not bar lawsuits by individual smokers.

Boeken was diagnosed in 1999 with lung cancer, which has spread to his lymph nodes, back and brain. He took up cigarettes in 1957 at age 13 and was smoking at least two packs of Marlboros every day for more than 40 years. Boeken’s attorney, Michael Piuze, said his client had kicked heroin and alcohol, but renewed his smoking habit after trying to quit several times.

Piuze argued that his client was a victim of a decades-long tobacco industry campaign to promote smoking as “cool” but which concealed the serious dangers of smoking.

During closing arguments, Piuze said Philip Morris is “the world’s biggest drug dealer, something that puts the Colombian drug cartels to shame.”

Attorneys for Phillip Morris didn’t deny that smoking caused Boeken’s illness but argued that he ignored health warnings about the dangers of cigarettes and chose to smoke despite the risk.

“He made a choice to smoke, period,” Leiter said during closing arguments.

The jury began deliberations on May 22. During the seven-week trial, jurors were presented evidence that included company memos and videotaped depositions from Boeken and clips of tobacco company executives’ 1994 congressional testimony.

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