Tobacco Cos. Cleared

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Tobacco Cos. Cleared

MIAMI -- A Miami jury cleared cigarette makers of liability on Thursday in a lawsuit filed by a former flight attendant who sought $500,000 in damages for illness she blamed on second-hand smoke in airplanes.

Former American Airlines flight attendant Suzette Ahrendt Janoff, who suffers from sinusitis, bronchitis, asthma and lung problems, sued Philip Morris Cos. Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard Tobacco and Brown & Williamson Tobacco. Janoff worked as a flight attendant from 1983 to 1996. Smoking was allowed on the domestic and international flights on which she worked and she was exposed to more than 6,500 hours of secondhand smoke on the job, the Associated Press reported

A doctor testifying for the cigarette makers said he did not believe smoke caused Janoff's illness and their lawyers blamed allergies and a sinus operation that they said went awry. After more than eight hours of deliberation over two days, the six-member Miami-Dade County jury found the tobacco companies were not liable.

"We are pleased with the jury's verdict in this case," Lorillard Vice President Ronald Milstein said in a written statement. "The evidence showed that the plaintiff suffered from preexisting conditions that can cause sinusitis. The jury considered these facts and made the appropriate decision."

The case stems from a 1998 settlement in a class action lawsuit filed by some 3,000 flight attendants who blamed the tobacco industry for illnesses caused by second-hand smoke in airplanes. The settlement in the case, Norma Broin versus Philip Morris et al, allows nonsmoking flight attendants to sue individually to recover compensatory damages but does not allow for punitive damages. It also required the tobacco companies to pay $300 million into a research foundation investigating the health effects of second-hand smoke, the report said.

The cigarette makers won the first case in 2001, when a jury rejected compensatory damages for flight attendant Marie Fontana, who said she developed chronic obstructive lung disease from secondhand smoke. In the second, the jury ordered the tobacco companies to pay $5.5 million in compensatory damages to flight attendant Lynn French, who blamed her chronic sinusitis on 14 years of working in smoke-filled planes. French was the first plaintiff ever to win a secondhand smoke case, and the tobacco companies have appealed the verdict. The third ended in a mistrial.