The liberals of Los Angeles are pro-drugs but anti-smoking. And even their antipathy for smoking is largely fake. That is, it extends not so much to the users of tobacco as to its producers.
Last Friday a Los Angeles jury essentially awarded Betty Bullock $28 billion (that's right, billion) for a lifetime of smoking Philip Morris cigarettes. A former nurse's assistant, Bullock says she had no idea that blowing smoke into her lungs for over forty years might pose a health "hazard."
Bullock, 64, is dying of lung cancer and she says Philip Morris is to blame. Its glamorous ads, she argued, turned her into some sort of robot with a two-pack-a-day habit. "I was thinking that I was in my teens and they were selling me these, this poison and this addictive and brain-altering drug," she sobbed on the stand. "I was robbed terribly, probably 20 years of my life being with my only grandchild that's a baby and my daughter who has no sisters or brothers so she needs me."
The jury of course bought this blatant evasion of responsibility. Fed a steady diet of political correctness, the jury was primed to send a Hollywood-style "message" to the tobacco industry. Bullock's huckster lawyer Michael Piuze encouraged the jury to go for the jugular. Give me and my client billions and you can right a societal wrong: "I think this verdict underlies the disgrace, not just for the tobacco industry but for society as a whole for letting this go on as long as it did," he said afterwards.
Twenty-eight billion dollars is quite a penalty for selling someone a product that they demanded. Bullock enjoyed the pleasures of smoking for decades, played dumb to its obvious dangers and risks, didn't listen to her daughter and doctors who told her to quit, and then, upon getting sick, decided to sue the source of her pleasure.
Isn't this all a little crass and childish? No, no, this is what passes for personal responsibility in Los Angeles. "Greed" is punished by sating one's own greed. "Responsibility" is shown by transferring responsibility to others.
But what if Philip Morris had not sold cigarettes to Bullock? What then? Could she have sued the company for that? Sure. Why not? How dare you not sell me a legal product! one could imagine this tobacco fiend saying.
Consistency and minimal personal honor are clearly not requirements for plaintiffs, still less for Los Angeles juries. Before heading off to lunch with Bullock's attorney, jurors explained their Solomonic reasoning to the press. "It's just a year's revenue for Philip Morris," juror Jose Farinas said casually.
According to the Los Angeles Times, jurors "had a spirited debate over the amount of the award, with individual jurors suggesting awards ranging from $5 million to $100 billion."
How did they end up with $28 billion? The Times said they settled on that number because "jurors had been told that only 1 in 28,000 lung cancer victims gets his or her day in court, and the panel in effect decided to impose $1 million of punishment on Philip Morris for each of the 28,000."
The jury had been instructed that the amount of damages should "bear a reasonable relationship to the injury suffered." But egged on by Piuze, they ignored that instruction.
Philip Morris can appeal the decision. But good luck. Who knows, in the current kangaroo legal culture, the award after appeal could even go up. (This happened in the case of Grady Carter from Jacksonville, Florida, reports the Times.)
Then again, California is a state which depends on tobacco addiction for some of its tax revenue. It may not want the goose that lays its golden eggs plucked too often.
But if the courts let this ludicrous jury award stand, perhaps Jodie Bullock can now bring a case against her mother for subjecting her to second-hand smoke. She had told her mother to knock the smoking off. "I want to be skiing with you and ice skating … and you'll probably have to pull one of those oxygen tanks, and it'll be kind of hard to stay athletic like you have been," she said to her mother, reports the Times.
But Betty Bullock kept puffing away, all the while insisting that Philip Morris lacked a sense of "responsibility."