Trials: Cigarettes v. Lollipops
Friday, Dec. 11, 1964
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As both a licensed physician and a lawyer, Florida's Lawrence V. Hastings was uniquely qualified to participate in the growing controversy over whether cigarettes cause cancer, and if so, whether the companies that make them are liable for the damage they cause. Dr. Hastings has not failed his calling.
Unexpected Evidence. Ever since 1957, after Miami Contractor Edwin M. Green learned that he had lung cancer, Dr. Hastings has been in court suing the American Tobacco Co. for $1,500,000 in damages, charging that its Lucky Strike cigarettes, which Green smoked at the rate of as many as three packs a day for 32 years, caused the contractor's illness. While the first trial was in progress, Green provided some unexpected evidence by dying of the disease.
Hastings won a verdict that cigarettes did indeed cause Green's death, but the jury refused to award any damages to Green's wife and son. Since the knowledge of tobacco's dangers was not established until the mid-1950s, the jury agreed that the American Tobacco Co. could not have known during most of Green's smoking years that cigarettes can cause cancer. Later, after the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Florida law subjects any product sold for public consumption to an "implied warranty" that it is not harmful, the Federal Court of Appeals ordered a retrial of the Green case.
Question of Numbers. When the retrial opened in Miami Federal District Court last month, Dr. Hastings had hopes of winning the first damage verdict in the history of the tobacco-cancer controversy. His hopes began to fade when Judge Emett C. Choate started his charge to the jury. Implied warranty, explained the judge, only meant that the product must be "reasonably fit and safe for the ordinary purpose for which it was sold." The issue, he continued, was not whether Green died of cigarette-induced cancer; another jury had decided that. This jury was simply to determine whether "a large segment, a responsible segment, a significant number" of smokers were endangered.
Under that definition, the tobacco company was found not guilty of breaching its implied warranty. Complained Dr. Hastings: "If a candy company sold one poisoned lollipop that caused one death, it would not be necessary to show that its lollipops had killed off a sizable segment of the population."
Last week the doctor-lawyer asked for a new trial on the grounds that "the verdict was contrary to the evidence." As lawyer, he faced the problem that the jury was assessing the danger not of one unusual lollipop, but the possible danger of countless ordinary cigarettes to a "significant number" of people; as doctor, he must have realized that for all the convincing statistics pointing to a relationship between smoking and lung cancer, the tobacco companies can still point to millions of people who smoke and do not contract the disease.
Read more: http://www.time.com
Cigarettes v. Lollipops
"Cigarettes cause cancer"