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Jury Reaches Verdict in Florida Tobacco TrialAired July 14, 2000 - 2:52 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: This just in to CNN. We have just learned that a jury in Miami, Florida has reached a verdict in that landmark class-action civil lawsuit against "Big Tobacco." The question jurors have had to answer: Can the tobacco companies be held responsible and have to pay up for making smokers sick in Florida?
Let's go to CNN's Susan Candiotti, who's covering this trial for us -- Susan.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Natalie.
We have indeed heard that a verdict will be announced in about 10 minutes from now. We are in a position in a courtroom that is adjacent to the courtroom where the trial proceeding has been going on. Frankly, this trial has been going on for two long years.
The jury began its deliberation process at about 10 o'clock this morning. They broke for about an hour for lunch, and they have been deliberating after lunch now for almost two hours.
We're talking about a landmark case here with a potential historic record settlement here depending on what the verdict is. Now, the smokers' attorneys have argued throughout the course of this penalty phase for punitive damages that's gone on for two months now that big tobacco is responsible for 50 years of lies and deceit. They have asked for damages in the amount of a whopping $154 billion. Big tobacco, on the other hand, has said, look, we have been punished enough. We have agreed to pay a $254 billion nationwide master settlement, and indeed we have already -- we are going to be paying almost $13 million in compensatory damages already awarded in this very same trial. They say we want no penalty at all.
They have maintained that they can only afford $150-175 million or they say they could go bankrupt. Now, that is prohibited under Florida law.
This jury, who's on it? Well, we have six men and women: breakdown four men, two women. Four of them are nonsmokers, one is currently a smoker, and one is an ex-smoker, and they have a wide variety of occupations, including a bank teller, welder, a phone technician, an assistant principal and the like. And they have been working very hard on this case for two long years -- Natalie .
ALLEN: Two years, that's an amazing long time and incredibly short time for a jury to reach a verdict today. Is this considered a pretty quick turnaround for them?
CANDIOTTI: Well, indeed this portion of the case, the penalty phase of the trial, has been going on for two months. So you remember that this jury has been very well-informed about all the facts because the case has been going on for two long years. But they already decided in the first phase of this trial, they found these five defendants, these five big tobacco companies, that they were guilty indeed of making a dangerous defective product.
In fact, I believe that we have something that we might be able to put up on the screen at this time to remind you of that verdict. If not, I'll explain it to you.
That jury found that smoking causes disease in cancer, that it is addictive, that it is a defective and a dangerous product, and that these five tobacco companies conspired to commit fraud by concealment.
Now, they have been listening to closing arguments in this punitive stage of the trial all week long. They've been hearing from attorneys for both sides, and all kinds of numbers have been bandied about by both sides as to how much big tobacco should have to pay.
So they've listened to a very wide range of numbers. It's been confusing to a lot of lay people. But apparently they've been able to sort things out in a relatively short period of time.
Some people thought this verdict would come down quickly and others weren't so sure -- Natalie.
ALLEN: And quickly, did all the same jurors in this punitive phase that reached the 1999 verdict, Susan?
CANDIOTTI: That's right, Natalie. Yes, they are. So they've been here for a very long time.
ALLEN: They have. We'll continue to be in close contact with you.
Again, a verdict has been reached. We expect it to be announced in a few minutes.
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