Jerry Weingart has been waiting more than a decade for the companies he believes killed his wife to be brought to justice. But at 89, the Boynton Beach man doesn’t have the stamina to spend the whole day in court. Holding a cane, he listened on Wednesday morning while one of his attorneys explained to a jury why three Pall Mall cigarette makers should be held responsible for his wife’s death. But Weingart headed home before tobacco attorneys launched their full counterattack
Like in the two other tobacco trials that have been held in Palm Beach County, millions of dollars are at stake.
The cases are among roughly 8,000 that were spawned statewide when the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 threw out a $145 billion jury verdict in a class-action lawsuit. While upholding the jury’s findings that cigarette-makers lied about the dangers of smoking, the high court ruled that each smoker had to prove how they were uniquely harmed by cigarettes.
Weingart’s attorneys said they are seeking damages for the years smoking took off Claire Weingart’s life. Instead of spending their “golden years” together, Jerry Weingart became widower in 1997 when his wife of 54 years died at age 73, attorney Hardee Bass told jurors.
A heavy smoker for roughly 50 years, she didn’t stop smoking even when lung cancer spread to her brain, Bass said. She began smoking in the 1940s when no one suspected smoking posed any health risks. She was powerless to stop because cigarette-makers R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris and Lorillard — the companies that produced her brands of choice — turned her into an addict, he said.
“This case is about a promise the cigarette industry made to a generation of people — the World War II generation,” Bass said during opening arguments. “It’s about the lies they told a generation of smokers. It’s about the truth they hid from a generation of smokers.”
Using company documents, he showed how the companies orchestrated a misinformation campaign to counter growing evidence that smoking kills.
“Claire Weingart was an industry success story,” he said.
Tobacco industry attorneys countered that there is no evidence Weingart was influenced by the documents. Attorney Kenneth Reilly acknowledged that tobacco chiefs made some “wrong-headed” decisions. But, he said, there is no evidence Weingart knew about the statements or used them to justify her decision to keep smoking. Like millions of other smokers, she could have quit.