It’s West Virginia smokers vs. big tobacco. Closing arguments were held Tuesday in a Kanawha County courtroom in the mass litigation suit brought by 700 state residents against five major tobacco companies.
The trial got underway three weeks ago. The litigants claim they were harmed by using tobacco products that were dangerous and the companies never warned them about the risks. The plaintiffs say they were led to believe filtered cigarettes were less harmful than non-filtered.
Plaintiff’s attorney Ken McClain argued Tuesday the companies knew the filters were defective.
“They didn’t work,” McClain said. “But the illusion of filtration is what [the companies] were trying to accomplish.”
McClaim told the jury that the tobacco companies researched and found ways to create a cigarette that produced less tar and nicotine but never made them available to the public.
“All of the products that are sold are defective by design…by design,” McClain said. “They could have been made safer. They weren’t”
McClain told the jury the less nicotine in the cigarettes, the less addictive they are and therefore fewer people would likely smoke.
Defense attorney Jeff Furr admitted to the jury during closing arguments that cigarettes are harmful to your health and do cause cancer. But he stressed it’s not the design of the cigarette that makes them dangerous.
“There are products in our society that are dangerous by nature like guns, knives, things like that. It’s just a part of the natural attribute of the product. And that’s the category that cigarettes fall into,” said Furr.
He told the jurors it’s not faulty filters that compromise the health of smokers but rather the tobacco itself which is a natural product.
“Cigarettes are dangerous and addictive by nature, not by design,” according to Furr. He represents R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, American Tobacco Co., Philip Morris and Lorillard.
The jury will decide if the cigarettes are defective and if smokers were properly instructed and warned. The plaintiffs are seeking punitive damages
Senior Status Circuit Court Judge Arthur Recht is presiding over the trial. It’s been 13 years making to the courtroom.
The case was moved from Wheeling when an impartial jury could not be found. Two previous attempts to find an impartial jury in Kanawha County were unsuccessful. This time 8,000 potential jurors were called for the jury pool. That’s believed to be the largest ever summoned in West Virginia.
If the jury rules in favor of the plaintiffs another jury will decide the monetary damages.