WEST PALM BEACH - In a stunning victory for Big Tobacco, a Palm Beach County jury Tuesday found three cigarette-makers owed an 89-year-old Boynton Beach man nothing for his wife's lifelong smoking habit that led to her agonizing death from lung cancer at age 73.
But while the verdict is in, the case isn't over.
Although the jury agreed that the cigarette-makers didn't owe widower Jerry Weingart a dime, they found each of the tobacco companies - R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris and Lorillard - 3 percent responsible for her death.
"It certainly is an unusual verdict to find fault by the three defendants but not to award a penny for pain and suffering," said attorney Jack Hill, who had sought at least $3.5 million for Weingart.
Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley agreed. He ruled that the jury reached "an inadequate verdict." That means Hill can seek a new trial or ask Kelley to overrule the jury and determine how much money Weingart should receive.
Jury foreman Edward Musco of Boynton Beach said jurors simply didn't believe the tobacco companies could be blamed for Claire Weingart's death.
"The general consensus was that it was her choice (to smoke)," he said of the verdict that came after about two hours of deliberation.
Weingart continued to smoke after her husband quit in 1962.
She continued smoking after her father died of lung cancer in 1972.
She continued smoking despite the urging of friends and family to quit.
She smoked after she was diagnosed with melanoma in 1980.
She continued to smoke until she died in 1997 after the cancer had metastasized to her brain.
Asked which was the most compelling, Musco said: "All of the above."
The verdict, if it stands, represents a first for Palm Beach County and is unusual statewide.
It along with roughly 8,000 others statewide was spawned when the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 threw out the $145 billion a jury awarded smokers in a class-action suit.
While upholding the jury's findings the cigarette-makers had lied about the dangers of smoking, the high court ruled that each smoker had to prove how he or she was uniquely harmed by cigarettes.
Of the 47 cases decided by jurors, smokers or their families have won 33. In Palm Beach County, jurors in two separate trials awarded early $2.4 million each to two widows of smokers. Tobacco companies are appealing all trials that they lost.
The three tobacco companies called only one witness in their defense - a psychiatrist who specializes in addiction.
They put into evidence dozens of magazine and newspaper articles to show that information about the dangers of smoking has been around since at least 1935 when Reader's Digest ran a story headlined, "Giving Up Smoking."
Weingart was disappointed by the verdict and said he has no regrets.
"I thought it was necessary," he said of why he pursued the cigarette-makers. His wife died a horrible death, he said. Cigarette-makers knew their product was deadly and addicting and for years did nothing but promote it. They should be held responsible, he said.
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