Mistrial in Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Philip Morris

A landmark tobacco case against cigarette maker, Philip Morris, has been declared a mistrial by a Broward Circuit Court judge. A Cooper City widow was suing Philip Morris on a wrongful-death claim.

A racist term was used by an expert witness on the second day of trial, while he was explaining his research into a project about racism in the tobacco industry, said the widow’s attorney Gary Paige.

Elaine Hess is the widow of Stuart Hess and had initiated the wrongful-death claim. Stuart Hess had died of lung cancer caused by smoking for four decades. He was 55 when he died in 1997.

Hess’s case came before Judge Jeffrey Streitfeld and was the first to go to trial out of thousands filed in Florida. Approximately 122 of those cases are in Broward County and 165 cases are on the docket in Palm Beach County.

These cases come after a Miami-Dade County class action lawsuit from the 1990s, where there was a $145 billion punitive damage award against the tobacco industry. The award was later dismissed on appeal, but it did establish that cigarettes cause cancer and that the tobacco industry hid evidence of the product’s addictive nature and health risks.

Robert Proctor, a professor of history of science at Stanford University, had used the N-word when he was explaining the research into the topic, which triggered the mistrial. According to Paige, the explanation cannot be done without using that word.

“He mentioned it within context of his research project. But the judge felt that the context the jury heard it within was prejudicial … that the jury was hearing about racism by the tobacco industry,” said Paige.

A spokesman for Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris, stated that the mistrial was appropriate and they believe the judge did what was required by law under the circumstances.