King & Spalding Wins Victory In First Tobacco Mass Action Trial

Friday, May 17, 2013 - 11:45

On May 15, 2013, after a lengthy litigation process that included three mistrials, King & Spalding won a near complete victory on behalf of defendants R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, American Tobacco Co., Philip Morris and Lorillard in a product liability suit involving hundreds of plaintiffs, seeking punitive damages. The jury rejected all of plaintiffs' claims in their entirety and rejected the claim of punitive damages. The only claim left standing is a limited claim covering a narrow period from 1964 to July 1, 1969, alleging a failure to instruct ventilated filter smokers not to cover the vent holes.

Partner Jeffrey L. Furr of King & Spalding’s Charlotte office was lead trial counsel for the industry. Other members of the King & Spalding trial team included the following Atlanta-based lawyers: Richard A. Schneider (partner), Michael R. Powers (counsel), Kathryn S. Lehman (senior associate), Valentin Leppert (associate) and Chad A. Peterson (associate).

In 1999, 1,100 plaintiffs filed individual tobacco product liability claims in West Virginia state court against the defendants alleging claims over a 50 year period of product defect, negligence, failure to warn and fraudulent concealment, seeking punitive damages. The cases became subject to a Mass Litigation Panel and were assigned to Judge Arthur Recht. The trial court fashioned a trial plan calling for common issues to be tried in a Phase I trial, followed by individual trials in Phase II.

After three mistrials, the fourth Phase I trial began on April 22 and concluded on May 7, 2013.

Mr. Furr previously earned the first industry defense verdict in a tobacco class action in 2002, defeating a claim for medical monitoring in West Virginia. This is the first tobacco mass action ever to go to trial, and represents yet another defense verdict for Mr. Furr in the tobacco litigation, including an unprecedented second defense verdict as lead industry counsel in a mass common issues trial.

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King & Spalding has been recognized by Main Justice as one of the top U.S. law firms for defense and compliance work related to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the 1977 statute that prohibits foreign bribery in overseas business transactions.

King & Spalding was one of only two firms cited in the category of “excellence in the life sciences” during the inaugural annual Main Justice Best FCPA Lawyers Client Service Awards luncheon held at The Hotel Monaco in Washington, D.C., on April 23.

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King & Spalding has recruited Peter Megens, one of Australia’s leading international arbitration and construction lawyers, as a partner in its Singapore office. Mr. Megens will join King & Spalding from King & Wood Mallesons in Melbourne, Australia, where he is co-head of that firm’s arbitration practice and a senior member of its construction team. He is expected to arrive at King & Spalding in July.

Mr. Megens has over 30 years’ experience representing clients in disputes arising out of construction, energy, mining and infrastructure projects. His cases have included arbitrations relating to projects throughout Southeast Asia, as well as arbitration and litigation of construction claims across Australia and New Zealand. Mr. Megens is a director and vice president of the Australian Centre for International Commercial Arbitration (ACICA), a former vice president of the Australian branch of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators, the national chair of the construction and infrastructure law committee of the Law Council of Australia and a fellow of the Institute of Arbitrators and Mediators, ACICA and the Singapore Institute of Arbitrators.