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Tobacco trial in St. Louis nearing an end

ST. LOUIS (AP) — After about three months of trial in St. Louis, a case in which more than two dozen health care providers sued big tobacco companies is wrapping up.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that 29 plaintiffs representing 37 health institutions, mostly local and regional operations in Missouri, are seeking more than $455 million from six tobacco companies for losses treating smokers. Closing arguments were expected to conclude Thursday, then jurors will be off until Monday, when they will begin deliberation.

The hospitals claim cigarette companies delivered an “unreasonably dangerous” product and are seeking reimbursement back to 1993 for treating patients who had no insurance and did not pay their bills.

The complicated trial, filed in 1998 as the City of St. Louis v. American Tobacco, was originally expected to last six months, but time was saved when the defense rested after presenting just three witnesses and playing parts of video depositions.

The suit was able to overcome legal challenges that kept about 160 similar cases around the country from reaching trial.

During closing statements on Wednesday, Ken Brostron, a lawyer representing the hospitals, argued that tobacco companies knew for decades that cigarettes were addictive and harmful but manufactured them anyway and misled the public about the health ramifications.

“They were banking on the hospital and health industry to clean up their mess,” he said.

Brostron showed clips from a 1960s Winston cigarette commercial featuring the Flintstones, which showed Fred and Barney relaxing in the yard with cigarettes while they watched Fred’s wife Wilma mow the lawn with a dinosaur lawn mower. “Yeah, Barney, Winston tastes good like a cigarette should,” Fred says. Another clip from “The Beverly Hillbillies” showed character Jed Clampett enjoying a Winston.

Booker Shaw, a tobacco company attorney, accused the hospitals of playing on the jurors’ emotions to try and make them angry at cigarette manufacturers. But the nonpaying patients the hospitals complained about are just a “tiny fraction” of those the hospitals serve, he said.

“They can’t prove they’ve been damaged because there haven’t been damages,” he argued.

Another tobacco company attorney, Andrew McGann, noted that cigarettes are legal and that the federal government already regulates them.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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