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$3 billion top ’01 jury award

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BOSTON — They were an unlikely duo: a small-firm attorney who'd never handled tobacco litigation, and a ponytailed paralegal with a zeal for pursuing cigarette companies in court.

But attorney Michael J. Piuze and paralegal Ray Goldstein won the largest individual jury award against a tobacco company when California jurors ordered Philip Morris U.S.A. to pay $3 billion to their client, Richard Boeken, a former heroin addict with cancer.

The June award was by far the largest of the 10 biggest jury verdicts of 2001, which totaled $5.7 billion, according to Lawyer's Weekly USA, a trade publication that publishes an annual Top 10 verdict list.

The 2000 total was about $2.58 billion,including awards by judges and juries. The 2001 list included only jury awards.

The verdicts could be reduced on appeal. A judge has already reduced the California tobacco award to $100 million, said Paul J. Martinek, editor-in-chief of LawyersWeekly.com, which is affiliated with the trade publication.

"Once you get above a certain amount of money, the figures start to be almost fantastical," he said. "What the judges try and do after the fact is try and return some common sense and have the verdicts have some meaning."

The number of huge awards fell off later in the year, and only one major award was handed down after the Sept. 11 attacks. Martinek said there are typically three or four large verdicts late in the year.

"The reason why you've only seen one since Sept. 11 is that all the cases were continued," jury consultant Howard Varinsky told Lawyer's Weekly. "They all got bumped into next year."

Juries last year awarded huge compensatory awards, such as a $115 million medical malpractice verdict in New York that included $100 million for pain and suffering. The plaintiff's attorney had sought $10 million for suffering, and the case is being appealed.

Another huge award was the $1.06 billion a Louisiana jury ordered Exxon Mobil to pay a retired judge in May because of radioactive contamination of his land.