Holly crap!
July 14, 2000 12:13 PM   Subscribe

Holly crap! $144 Bil. punitive damages.
posted by tiaka (26 comments total)
Hmm. news story isn't posted yet. Should be soon.
"Some 300,000 to 700,000 sick Florida smokers are seeking up to $196 billion in punitive damages in the first smokers' class-action suit to go to trial. "
They got $144 billion. And, does this mean that we'll see more of those the truth.com ads?
posted by tiaka at 12:20 PM on July 14, 2000

They didn't get anything yet. It'll get knocked way below $144 billion before any money changes hands.
posted by dogwelder at 12:55 PM on July 14, 2000

This is a complete joke. How come no one is suing the beer, wine and liquor companies for killing people in droves? Oh wait, I know! Alcohol is socially acceptable but smoking is not! I'll continue to exhale secondhand smoke where ever it will piss people off the most.

This is American hypocrisy at its very finest. With all we know about the dangers of smoking, if you're dumb enough to smoke cigarettes anyway and get sick, than you're the moron that's responsible for it. BTW, the lawyers will take a huge chunk of the damages (which is why those scumbag ambulance chasers take these cases to begin with).
posted by Mr. skullhead at 1:45 PM on July 14, 2000

Tiaka, all of this money goes to the people involved in the class action suit, not to the government. So unless you get a generous plaintiff, thetruth.com won’t be seeing any of it.

And while $144,000,000,000 is an insane amount of money, it works out to 'only' $205, 714 - $480,000 per person.

Are there taxes on settlements? If so that’s $133,714 - $312,000 per person (at 35%).

A lot of money, yes. Enough to support a lung cancer victim without insurance? Maybe in Canada :)

And that’s without considering the lawyers fees.

And to counter the ‘everyone knew they were a health risk’ thing, remember that until very recently, tobacco companies denied that smoking was a health risk.

Beyond the decades of lies from the tobacco corporations, you also have to consider that they designed their product to be as efficient at physically addicting people as possible.

posted by alan at 1:59 PM on July 14, 2000

Doesn't matter that the companies denied it; the packs have said for decades that smoking these delicious, firmly-packed tubes of chemically mangled plant will cause you to hack up gallons of cilia-flecked gooberjuice. Or words to that effect. I don't know one smoker who doesn't know that the things are bad for them.

I asked my father how he made it through WWII without picking up the habit, and he said "they weren't good for you." Somehow the message had gotten to a 15 year old North Dakota kid with a 7th grade education.
posted by lileks at 2:33 PM on July 14, 2000

Boy, what a joke... Are they gonna sue the people who held a gun to the smoker's heads forcing them to light up??? Oh wait... I forget... no one forced them.

Even if the people only get 144,000 per person or so, think of how much the lawyers are making. 33% of 144 Billion. How many lawyers were in on the suit? Probably not over 100. Boy, instant millionaires and possibly a billionaire or two.

Who is next? Pop products for addicting people to caffeine? Coffee? How about dairy products for clogging arteries. This is just plain ridiculous.

Granted, smoking causes cancer, but so do a number of other things. Bad eating habits can, pollution can, etc...

Just another step towards the Death of Common Sense.
posted by da5id at 2:44 PM on July 14, 2000

...and another reason for Tort Reform.
posted by da5id at 2:51 PM on July 14, 2000

this disgusts me.

the obese are next to hop on the what-me-take-responsibility bandwagon. every one of us should head straight for the nearest Awful Waffle and order half a dozen eggs and a pound of bacon so we can cash in on the Big Cholesterol settlement that is no doubt looming on the horizon.

i'll take mine with fried lard on the side, please. oh, and could i get an ashtray over here...
posted by Sapphireblue at 2:55 PM on July 14, 2000

I have a hard time understanding how so many people can take the side of filthy rich corporations which lied for years about the addictiveness of nicotine-- we now know this for a fact-- against ordinary people who smoked and got cancer. Many of them started smoking back in the days when cigarette makers hired doctors to be in their ads, claiming that cigarettes were GOOD for your throat: "Not a cough in a carload!"

Check out corporate tax rates now vs. the 1950s. Read about how corporate lobbyists make sure the law is almost always on their side. Learn about the tiny fines that corporations get when they break the law, lying, polluting, and killing people. The more you learn about how rampant corporations run in US society, the more you'll be glad for every opportunity for ordinary people to get a little back from companies that lied to them and caused them pain in order to make more money.
posted by wiremommy at 3:14 PM on July 14, 2000

I am not taking their side, but I don't agree with how our law has become used for "Jack-Pot Justice"

Lawyers such as these are scum of the earth, and many more like them are trying to find each and every angle they can to make themselves instantly rich at the cost of corporations, the people, and the american justice system.

I think I will sue, Dell, Hewlett Packard, Gateway, Compaq, etc... for addicting me to the internet, making my eyes go bad (sitting too close to the monitor), giving me carpal tunnel syndrom (I can't even pleasure myself anymore!), and ruining my marriage because I spent endless hours on their computers surfing the net.

Of course, no one made me do it, but that is besides the point... isn't it?
posted by da5id at 3:29 PM on July 14, 2000

Not one person who is part of the class action will see one penny. Who do you see to collect the money? because I will certainly go stand in line to collect. Odds are McD's, BK, KFC, and all fast food target the wrong people and serve poor products.....they are next.
posted by brent at 3:34 PM on July 14, 2000

Once again my fellow citizens let me down. Tho I am not a smoker, those of you who are have my sympathy. A black day for freedom.
Bring on the mind control.
What does this have to do with corporate taxes? I saw a graph showing corporate taxes posted on another MF thread a few weeks back. Just reminded me about FDR being a supreme constitution hating, law breaking scumbag. ugh.
posted by thirteen at 4:22 PM on July 14, 2000

I'm not crazy about "jackpot justice" neither... but letting these gazillionaire dicknoses (or any others) off the hook turns my stomach worse.

My big (pie) dream out of all this is that it stops the tobacco industry entirely. Set up some federal funds to convert the tobacco farms to other crops, regulate the hell out of the "industry" until it's either too expensive or too much hassle to keep a habit without checking into drop-in centres, and then start working on the next blatantly dangerous evil to face society.

They've knowingly killed (and continue to kill) literally millions and millions of people with a deeply addictive and lethal product that has no upside for the human race. What's the proper reaction to that?

I don't think bankruptcy is good enough for the heads of these companies. I say next time we sue them for crimes against humanity.
posted by chicobangs at 4:27 PM on July 14, 2000

A corporation has the same rights under the law as a human being. (This happened as a result of a completely out-of-left-field court ruling which nevertheless became a precedent in law.) However, a corporation has more power and money than any one human being could ever accumulate. Corporations are immortal. And because corporations are collective, no one ever has to answer individually for the crimes of a corporation.

If you, as an individual, went up to people and sold them "Yum Yum Sticks" containing heroin and asbestos, saying "They taste good and there's nothing harmful in them". Then a few years later you admitted, "Well, okay, there are miniscule amounts of heroin in the Yum Yum Sticks, and also some asbestos that might give you cancer. We'll warn people about the cancer risk, but the heroin in Yum Yum Sticks isn't addictive." You produce endless studies about how the heroin in Yum Yum Sticks was not addictive. Finally, it gets out that you lied. Yum Yum Sticks have lots of heroin in them; they are very addictive, and they give people cancer. You, the individual responsible for thousands of peoples' addictions, cancers, and death, would be convicted of fraud, negligence, and possibly manslaughter or murder. You, the individual responsible, would probably get a large fine and go to jail for a long time. I think most people can see that you, the individual who did these things, would deserve such a punishment.

Corporations have all the same rights as individuals, but you can't jail corporations when they commit crimes. Corporations have more money than individuals, and use that money to keep politicians from penalizing them for their crimes. What can you do to a corporation when it commits crimes for which an individual would be fined and jailed, and gets away with it?

You can file a civil suit and try to get as much money as you possibly can from the corporation-- all a corporation is, is a shell for the purpose of accumulating profit. The only way to hurt a corporation is to hurt its profits. So the only way to punish a corporation which is responsible for criminal acts is to cost it money.

The government has failed to punish cigarette companies by fining them for their crimes or taking away their corporate charters. Civil lawsuits are a viable alternative. I don't like it either. I'd rather have a referendum on my ballot allowing me to take away their corporate charters and disband RJ Reynolds & company. I'd rather a bunch of lawyers weren't getting rich. But this is what we have to work with. This is the closest to justice we can get.
posted by wiremommy at 4:41 PM on July 14, 2000

If Yumyum sticks are an alias for hot dogs, I already knew.
I too would like to have that referendum, it would give me some peace of mind to be crushed by a majority, that to be dictated to by what I imagine to be a minority. What we got does not feel like justice at all.
posted by thirteen at 4:56 PM on July 14, 2000

I'm not saying it's cool they lied. And sure, they did. I'm saying who didn't know the truth?

Those of us who smoke made a choice. There are those of us uninterested in changing our minds. Why must we shut down the entire tobacco industry? For The Good Of The Nation? spare me. If we want to save lives in the USA, forget tobacco and let's ban guns---not that that will ever happen.

If it's about getting the tobacco biz now for having lied for so many years, I wish they'd say so; I could probably even deal with that. But all this mess about millions of innocent deaths, the victimized humanity---puhlease.
posted by Sapphireblue at 6:40 PM on July 14, 2000

It's about getting the tobacco biz now for having lied for so many years.

I'm not about banning tobacco. I'd legalize pot if it were up to me. But I believe those companies should be penalized for lying all those years, and I think that's what's behind these judgements.
posted by wiremommy at 6:44 PM on July 14, 2000

Years ago,The Govt. lumped a bunch of enforcement agencies together: the Bureau of Alcohol,Tobacco and Firearms.
Has anyone noticed the Mega-Lawsuits are slowly following each one of those groups? Does the ATF accidently gather information through enforcement that is used by those Lawsuits? Way to go ATF! soon there will be no more Tobacco, then No more Firearms and then the Bureau will called: ABW. Alcohol, Beer and Wine.
posted by Almac at 7:38 PM on July 14, 2000

Prohibition for alcohol didn't work. Total illegalization across the board of all narcotics doesn't work. I mean people can still get the stuff. They still take the stuff. They still end up in hospitals or dead. It doesn't work. Legalization and regulation of tobacco hasn't worked.

We have narcotics, stimulants, hallucinogens, depressants (including alcohol), and whatever category tobacco and marijuana each fall into. These things are not going away. People will continue to use and abuse them. We can't sweep it under the rug and ignore it. We can't enforce legislation and police this because there's not enough resources and to do it right would turn the entire country into a police state. We can't just try to regulate it and hope we make stuff that won't kill too many people.

The war on drugs is over. Those who don't like drugs have lost. Making drugs legal doesn't work, because people WILL die, if nothing more than because people are by and large stupid, especially when they start screwing around with their brains and bodies on this crap. Regulation doesn't work. Legalization doesn't work. Illegalization doesn't work. Turning a blind eye to it doesn't work. We're spinning our wheels here. We're running around in circles here.

And I'm sorry to burst your bubble people, but education and "talking to your kids" doesn't work either. Nothing works.

Nothing works. What have we NOT tried? There's gotta be a solution. However, we already know what doesn't work. How long will we as a society continue to bang our accumulative heads against a wall on this until we realize that nothing attempted up until now has worked? Continuing to try to force it to work is only wasting time and energy and it's making everything worse.

Oh. In case I forgot to annoyingly ram this point home. Regulation. No. Illegalization. No. Legalization. No. Ignorance? No. Education? No. Nothing so far has worked. Anything I leave out? What's next? IS there anything we haven't tried? Have we exhausted all possibilities?
posted by ZachsMind at 7:58 PM on July 14, 2000

so what's the statute of limitations on the crime of lying through your teeth to the American public?

seriously, i wonder how one would prosecute a case explicitly on those grounds... I know that oftentimes part of being a lawyer is taking whatever tack is necessary to win, but it seems like the lawyers involved here definitely took the low road with the aforementioned hand-wringing and alarmism.

i guess i'm wondering if cases like this could be won at all on pure abstract principle, or how depressingly big a role the court of pushbutton public opinion (which can, of course, be swayed if you've got the resources, which anti-tobacco certainly does) actually plays in determining outcomes like this.

head in the clouds, i know.

posted by Sapphireblue at 12:25 AM on July 15, 2000

Oh. I'd also like to add:

Lawyers and much of the judicial system as it is abused today, doesn't work either.
posted by ZachsMind at 1:27 AM on July 15, 2000

I find myself doing this with apalling regularity, but I'll do it here again: Once you dig say, an inch, beneath the surface, you find that reality is different from what it looks like on the surface. CNNfn has put up a nice story on what this really means, but I'll summarize here (and add a few sidenotes):

1) The award is almost certainly unconsitutional and will be reversed on appeal.

2) Because the jury went so far beyond common sense and nailed them for such an exceedingly huge amount of cash, it will probably be ruled as an illegal attempt to make a moral statement against Big Tobacco in general rather than a mere assessment of punitive damages in a single case. The result? The punitive damage award will not merely be reduced, but thrown out entirely, with the plaintiffs not getting one thin dime.

3) In the unlikely event the awards are upheld on appeal, here's the most probable scenario: Companies declare bankruptcy. They become the property of the plaintiffs. Congratulations plaintiffs, you now are Big Tobacco! And if you try to close them down, you can expect to spend a number of years with your life pretty much over as millions of people, and their moneygrubbing lawyers, turn on you for actively working to destroy shareholder value! Have a nice day.

(All you really need to know is in the stock prices: Philip Morris got the biggest "hit" here, for $74 bil. The stock closed yesterday down a whopping 3 teenies.)

Of course, as you dig even deeper down, it all gets sillier and sillier. First of all, most of these companies have been working for years to separate their tobacco operations from the rest of the companies through spinoffs and the like. RJR, Philip Morris et al are still going to be around, and still be big huge Evil Capitalist Conglomerates, long after they've personally rolled their last stick of lung candy.

Secondly, keep in mind that most of what they did wrong occurred decades ago, not last week. Even if you hit the company, the people responsible for all this are all long since retired or dead, with the money they personally made all intact. You're just taking it out on their successors.

Lastly: It's safe to say that people today can't get through the day without having it pounded involuntarily into their brains that Tobacco is Bad. Yet people still smoke. So there's obviously more here, a lot more, than innocent people being blinded to reality by Evil Capitalist Conglomerates. The point's been made that Big Tobacco did bad things in the past, but the past is gone, and tobacco's still around. What are the activists going to do now?
posted by aaron at 4:53 AM on July 15, 2000

Tobacco isn't bad. Smokers aren't bad.

But lawyers! Lawyers are very bad. To me this isn't about smokers. It's about lawyers. The headline should read:

"Clever lawyers get stinking rich."
posted by y6y6y6 at 5:44 AM on July 15, 2000

The standard contingency fee in Florida is usually one-third. I don't know if this is true for class action suits.

The lawyers get one-third of $144 billion.

The lawyers get $48 billion.

The lawyers get $48 billion.

The lawyers get $48 billion.

Does anyone have a problem with that?
posted by mikewas at 5:58 PM on July 15, 2000

Zach asks: what haven't we tried?

Talking to our kids?

Caring about out kids?

Loving our kids?
posted by baylink at 4:06 PM on July 16, 2000

This thread is dead it seems, but here is another excellent reaction to the judgement.
posted by thirteen at 9:48 PM on July 17, 2000

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