Tobacco verdict may lead to copycat cases

July 15, 1999|By Tom Fiedler

WHILE I'M always happy when the underdog wins, with last week's tobacco verdict I nonetheless fear we have stepped upon a slippery legal slope.

To quickly recount a trial whose speed rivaled that of the Ice Age: A jury found Big Tobacco deliberately suppressed evidence linking smoking to disease.

The plaintiffs stand to collect. They'd like $200 billion.

When I heard about this verdict I asked: The evidence was covered up? I don't smoke, but I long ago surmised that burning a plant that oozes tar, then breathing the acrid fumes, is a bad way to train for the Boston Marathon.

These things often get overturned, so it'd be doubly inappropriate to pass out cigars just yet. But I predict a wave of copycat lawsuits. A few judgments we might see:

The People vs. Ding-Dongs: We the jury find defendant Ding-Dongs guilty of willfully creating an addictive product, evidenced by the inability of consumers to stop at one. Or even two. Furthermore, defendant conspired to cover up fact that Ding-Dongs are best when dunked in whole, as opposed to low-fat, milk, increasing caloric intake.

Jury awards $400 trillion in damages, and requires warning labels on boxes. But jury removes actress Camryn Manheim and all sumo wrestlers from class, as evidence suggests Ding-Dong consumption enhanced their economic status.

The U.S. vs. Anheuser-Busch Co.:

The jury finds defendant Anheuser-Busch guilty of creating and distributing products which contribute significantly to government expenditures on social programs. Specifically, Budweiser, a beer product, renders users incapable of comprehending that they're disgusting, thus provoking marital discord. The resultant divorces increase social welfare payments to the single-parent households thus created.

The jury further finds that defendant knowingly and deliberately tried to cover up the defects with Bud Light, a beer-like product, whose attributes -- tastes great, less filling -- actually increased the negative sociological effects previously described.

Damages set at $500 trillion.

The state of Florida vs. Mother Nature:

The jury finds Mother Nature guilty of willful negligence against the state of Florida, causing irreparable damage, pain and mental suffering. The jury finds Mother Nature deliberately created the "Sunshine State," fully knowing such a climate would cause people to engage in a process known as tanning, where skin is browned in a process similar to that of cooking beef. This well-bronzed jury found consumers were incapable of adjudging that frying their skin like a food product was harmful.

Furthermore, Mother Nature placed the state at a latitude that routinely and unfairly costs the state treasury, through such incidents as hurricanes, brush fires and mosquito infestations.

The jury will set damages at a later date. In the interim, jury has agreed to set bond at $10 zillion, or property bond in the form of Australia. Whichever is greater.

Tom Fiedler is editorial page editor of the Miami Herald.

Pub Date: 7/15/99

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