MIAMI -- The hot seat for tobacco company executives could soon be on the witness stand, not in the boardroom.
In a bid to dissuade a Florida jury from punishing their companies, tobacco industry titans were expected to testify this week about what they see as ''enormous changes'' made in their industry in recent years.
The panel was scheduled to hear testimony today from Philip Morris Inc. CEO Michael Szymanczyk, the first of five executives expected to take the stand on a potential multibillion-dollar punitive damage request by 300,000 to 500,000 sick Florida smokers.
''We're going to present substantial evidence to show some enormous changes in these companies in the last three years,'' said lead tobacco attorney Dan Webb. ''We're going to show the jury why it is that punitive damages simply would not be warranted in this case.''
The six-member jury previously awarded $12.7 million in compensatory damages to three people in the nation's first smokers' class-action suit to go to trial.
The expected appearance of the CEOs before the jury demonstrates the importance of the case to the industry. Tobacco executives make infrequent public appearances, primarily at corporate annual meetings, and rarely testify under oath.
Smokers' witnesses estimated the companies could raise $150 billion to $157 billion to pay a punitive verdict. Those figures would dwarf the national punitive damages record of $3 billion, assessed against Texaco in 1987.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.