The lawyers involved in the landmark Cipollone smoker death suit - the first lost by a cigarette company - plan to go on testing the limits of product liability law.
Marc Z. Edell, the lead lawyer for Antonio Cipollone, whose wife, Rose, died of lung cancer, said his office has been inundated with calls from would-be clients since last week's verdict. Edell has six suits pending against cigarette makers in New Jersey's state and federal courts.Edell and his co-counsel, Alan Darnell, say they are not anti-smoking crusaders.
"If there's some positive fallout for society, then great," Edell said Friday. "But our first and primary focus is for our clients."
But crusaders like Richard Daynard, a professor at Northeastern University Law School and chairman of the Tobacco Litigation Research Project, hope the verdict in the Cipollone case is the crack in the wall that will spread and eventually bring down the cigarette industry.
"As people focus in more and more clearly on how outrageous the conduct of the tobacco companies has been they will put much less weight on the much smaller sin of the plaintiffs," he said.
Financially, Edell and Darnell won next to nothing for themselves when a jury awarded Cipollone $400,000 after finding that Liggett made false promises that the cigarettes his wife, Rose, smoked were safe. The lawyers and their firms have already spent about $2 million on the case and can expect to spend more battling Liggett's appeal.
The jury also ruled that Liggett failed in its duty to warn smokers of the risk they were taking but did not award damages, finding that Rose Cipollone was mainly responsible for her own demise.
The couple filed the suit in 1983, two years after a doctor found a spot on Rose Cipollone's lung during a routine physical. Before her death the next year, Cipol-lone promised his wife he would continue the legal fight.
"Rose was in it to get a message out to people," Edell said Friday. "In that sense, we certainly filled our obligations to Rose and to Tony."
The upcoming suits will be far cheaper than the Cipol-lone case, Edell said, because the years of research can be used in other cases. A judge's ruling also gives other lawyers access to the documents he uncovered.
The tobacco companies put far more money into defending themselves. They refuse to even estimate the cost, but observers say they may have spent as much as $50 million.
The massive defense included nine trial attorneys from three major law firms, backed up by local counsel, paralegals, a public relations firm and one lawyer whose assignment was to answer press questions. That outpouring of resources made sense in the Cipollone case and earlier suits because the industry needed to hold its ground and discourage other plaintiffs, Daynard said.
As tobacco liability suits become more common, "the defendants can't keep on spending that kind of money," he said. "At some point, they are going to have to start dealing with them in a routine manner."
Edell and Darnell are scheduled to confront some of the same adversaries next month at a pre-trial conference in a 1984 suit by Susan Haines, a New Jersey woman whose father, Peter Rossi, died of lung cancer in 1982. Haines named Liggett, Lorillard Inc. and Philip Morris Inc., the three defendants in the Cipollone case, as well as RJR Nabisco Inc. and the Tobacco Institute.