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Federal Judge Finds No Basis for Suit Against Philip Morris U.S.A.

Business Editors

CHARLESTON, S.C.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--July 10, 2001

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit set for trial next month against Philip Morris U.S.A. filed by Donald LaBelle on behalf of his wife, Christine, a smoker with lung cancer who died in 1997 at the age of 41.

In dismissing the case, U.S. District Judge Patrick Michael Duffy noted that the law simply did not permit the case to go to trial even though he was required to view the allegations in the light most favorable for the plaintiff.

"We are pleased Judge Duffy agreed with us that this lawsuit was without merit," said William S. Ohlemeyer, Philip Morris vice president and associate general counsel.

In rejecting the claim that cigarettes are defective in design, Judge Duffy wrote that "a product is not defective merely because it is inherently dangerous" and that the plaintiff must "demonstrate that cigarettes could have feasibly been made safer. If one cannot demonstrate that a product is capable of safer design, then logically it should be viewed as inherently dangerous."

LaBelle argued that "a feasible alternative design" did exist that would have enabled Philip Morris U.S.A. to reduce the risks of cigarettes, based on the testimony of William Farone, a former company scientist who has testified in several smoking and health cases against Philip Morris U.S.A.

However, after reviewing Farone's testimony in those cases, Judge Duffy rejected Farone's assertions as unproven speculation. And even if such products could have been produced, there was no evidence to show that Mrs. LaBelle would have chosen to smoke them.

Judge Duffy also said the plaintiff's allegations that Philip Morris U.S.A. engaged in fraud by misrepresenting the dangers of cigarettes failed to pass muster.

No evidence was presented that "Mrs. LaBelle ever heard, saw or knew of any representations which would likely have made a difference in her (cigarette) purchasing decisions" or that she "was ever exposed to any `fraudulent or deceptive conduct' on the part of Philip Morris," Judge Duffy noted.

Ohlemeyer said "it is clear that cigarettes are an inherently dangerous product, but that fact does not entitle people who make informed choices about smoking to recover damages. Every pack of cigarettes that Mrs. LaBelle smoked was labeled with a U.S. Surgeon General's health warning that Congress believes is sufficient to inform smokers about the dangers of smoking.

"Cigarettes are a dangerous and controversial product, but society and the government also have determined that informed adults should have the right to choose whether to smoke. Whether people decide to smoke, or to quit, they should be responsible for the decisions they make.

"For those reasons, we intend to vigorously defend these types of cases," Ohlemeyer added.
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Publication:Business Wire
Date:Jul 10, 2001
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