Deadlocked jury in family’s lawsuit against tobacco company

BETHEL — After more than three weeks, a Bethel Superior Court jury cannot decide whether or not a tobacco company misled a Pilot Station man about the harmful effects of smoking.

KYUK-AM reported jury foreman Robert Sundown said jurors deadlocked over whether Philip Morris USA was at fault for the death of Benjamin Frances.

Francis died of lung cancer at age 52 in 2004 after a long history of smoking Marlboro Lights.

Francis’ common-law wife, Dolores Hunter, and children sued Philip Morris USA and its parent company Altria Group for product liability, fraud, and the wrongful death of Francis.

Sundown said some jurors wanted more testimony on why Francis chose to smoke Marlboro Lights before they made a decision.

“You feel for the parties involved, both for Ms. Hunter and Philip Morris in terms of the time and effort and energy they all expended into this case,” he said. “And you can see that in both attorneys and their passion for arguing in the case, but in the end you have to come to some sort of message. In answering those questions, you have to be able to answer the questions honestly, and we just weren’t there.”

Attorneys for Philip Morris USA did not respond for requests for comment.

Don Bauermeister of Washington represented the Francis estate and said he has a week to file for a retrial based on the family’s decision. He said cases like the lawsuit are important because they question the practices of tobacco companies.

“Whether the discussion is good or bad,” Bauermeister said, “they generate discussion about the dangers of tobacco, the misinformation that’s been shared about tobacco, and the need for people to rethink how dangerous tobacco is and what they’ve been told. Because for many years they were not told the truth.”

This was the second time Hunter’s case has gone to trial. The first trial occurred in 2011 and the company was found not liable but that ruling was reversed by a higher court.

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