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Only in America

By Oliver Del Signore

Oliver Del Signore

June 8, 2001

There was a time when people who were brain-dead were allowed to pass away with dignity. These days, we have them serve on juries in civil trials.

A Los Angeles jury recently took nine days to ponder the evidence and testimony in the trial of Richard Boeken verses Phillip Morris and award Mr. Boeken over three billion dollars in damages. Yes, that was three billion, with a "B".

Mr. Boeken, a lifelong smoker who began puffing on Marlboros in 1957 contracted lung and brain cancer. Naturally, it was not his fault for smoking all those years. It was Phillip Morris's fault because they advertised their perfectly legal product and presented smoking as "cool" and Mr. Boeken was dumb enough to believe it.

Yes, I said dumb.

How else to describe a person who can, with a straight face, claim it was not until the mid-90's that he became aware of the health warnings about tobacco despite the fact that warnings have been required by Congress on cigarette packages and in advertising since the mid-60's. Perhaps Mr. Boeken never read the warning on any of the 11,000 plus packs of cigarettes he smoked during the past 30 years. With 20 butts to the pack, that means he had over 200,000 opportunities to notice them but missed them each time. And of course, he never watched any television, or listened to any radio, where he might have been clued-in to the dangers of inhaling tobacco smoke. Yuh, right.

Based on either his stupidity, if he really didn't know, or his absurd lie if he did, one would imagine a jury composed of even slow-thinkers would take all of ten minutes in the jury room to decide Mr. Boeken was responsible for his own health problems and send him and his lawyers packing after ordering him, and them, to pay Phillip Morris what it cost to defend themselves against such an obviously frivolous lawsuit.

But no. These days there is nothing too frivolous to litigate. There is nothing we might possibly do for which we have any responsibility. It is always someone else's fault and that someone must pay. And pay big.

We can only hope that Phillip Morris' will appeal this absurd verdict and that it will land on the desk of a judge who is more concerned with logic, reason, and law than he is with sending politically correct messages.

And please, let's start disqualifying those potential jurors who are on life-support.

Oliver Del Signore is a freelance writer, proofreader, creative consultant, website designer, and the webmaster for Backwoods Home Magazine. He welcomes comments and inquiries via email to

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      Please address comments regarding this page to editor[at] Comments may appear in the "Letters" section of Backwoods Home Magazine. Although every email is read, busy schedules generally do not permit personal responses.


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