Mississippi is not widely known for being first in anything; in fact, Michael Orey notes in Assuming the Risk, the state ranks last or near last on an embarrassing array of scales. And yet, he writes, it was in the courtrooms of this disparaged Southern state that a pioneering team of lawyers led the way in a politically controversial crusade against the tobacco industry. Mississippi was the first state in the nation to sue cigarette manufacturers to recover smoking-related health care costs incurred by the state's Medicaid program. The fierce legal battle resulted in a multibillion-dollar settlement and eventually led to hundreds of billions of dollars in fines levied against the tobacco industry when other states followed suit.
Though decidedly pro-plaintiff, Assuming the Risk is not another vituperative rant against the Evil Empire of Big Tobacco: Orey does not shout and stomp on his soapbox. Instead, the veteran legal journalist and Wall Street Journal editor coolly focuses on the objective facts, presenting the who, what, where, and when of a complex and contentious litigation. His well-researched and detailed narrative spotlights the key figures in this real-life morality play--the mavericks, lawyers, and whistleblowers--including one particularly revealing chapter on Jeffrey Wigand, a former research scientist for the tobacco firm Brown & Williamson, whose decision to break a confidentiality agreement by speaking with 60 Minutes investigative reporter Mike Wallace became the subject of the 1999 film The Insider. --Tim Hogan
From Publishers Weekly
As the Marlboro Man descends from the nation's billboards, Orey's account of the first successful litigation targeting tobacco companies is well timed. For a book documenting litigation, it's a joy to read largely because of its colorful cast of characters: a Nazi apothecarist, Sylvester Stallone (accepting a cool half million to light up his favorite brand of smokes in five movies), a witness who wears a fresh clove of garlic as a tie tack to demonstrate his feelings toward lawyers, the lawyers for big tobacco whose victory celebrations are conducted in the presence of a skeleton with a cigarette jammed between its bony fingers. Orey, who covered tobacco cases for the American Lawyer and is now an editor at the Wall Street Journal, follows attorney Don Barrett as he tries three cases against the tobacco industry, losing all of them and not earning a penny, but persevering to help pilot Mississippi's Medicaid recovery suitAa landmark case in which the tobacco companies settled for $3.6 billion. Like all noteworthy villains, Orey's tobacco companies make their own fatal errors. Hiring washed-up paralegals to index their most secret documents at $9 an hour beggars the cloak-and-dagger antics that make this book such an enjoyable read, regardless of how many packs a day one smokes. U.K. and translation rights: Williams & Connolly. (Sept.)
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