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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Tobacco Award of $8 Million

In 1999, one Barbara Izzarelli filed a lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds after she developed laryngeal cancer. Last week, after eleven years of litigation, a Connecticut jury awarded her $8 million and if the U.S. District Judge determines in the upcoming hearing that it is appropriate, he will award another $16 million in punitive damages, bringing the total to $24 million.

R.J. Reynolds plans an appeal and is confident of their multiple defenses going forward.

Izzarelli started smoking as a young teen, smoking Salem cigarettes heavily every day. At the age of 37, she had a total laryngectomy (removing her destroyed larynx), then radiation and chemotherapy. She now breathes through a tracheotomy tube, being unable to breathe through her nose or mouth, and must eat an entirely soft diet.

Her product liability case was based on the claim that in 1954, R.J. Reynolds said that if anybody proved a specific cigarette ingredient was a carcinogen, they would take that ingredient out of their products. Many research studies have confirmed a link between smoking and cancer, as everyone knows, but news reports do not say what specific ingredient has been proved as a carcinogen. R.J. Reynolds has not changed their product ingredients.

Youth Marketing or Not?

Izzarelli’s lawyer, one David Golub, offered evidence and argued that R.J. Reynolds, after gathering information about teen smoking habits, had developed new products for teenagers in the 1970s. They had sold them in teen hang-outs at lowered prices. About this case, he stated:

  • "Smokers are entitled to show they were the victim of illegal marketing. I thought this was a case that could show that and other people would be encouraged to bring cases."

However, R.J. Reynolds spokesman David Howard stated that the company’s defense lawyers were not given any chance to bring their defense that cigarettes probably did not cause Izzarelli’s cancer; nor were they permitted to contest the admission of alleged youth marketing evidence. He said:

  • "[The judge] allowed all youth marketing evidence despite the fact that, before trial, one of the plaintiff's claims was dismissed because there was no evidence that the plaintiff was affected by any quote, unquote youth marketing."

This evidence, whatever it is, was discovered only within the past ten or so years. One must keep in mind that not everyone who smokes develops cancer, and conversely, not everyone who develops lung or laryngeal cancer is, or has been, a smoker. It is not believable that Izzarelli did not know she was risking cancer – the link between cancer and cigarettes has been widely touted in the media since the 1950s and every pack of cigarettes has a warning clearly printed on it.

In fact, despite the presentation of youth marketing evidence, the jury found Izzarelli to be 42 percent responsible for her own cancer, because of her 20 years of heavy smoking.

It remains to be seen whether the judge will award punitive damages in this case and whether this case will encourage other individuals to sue tobacco companies. The 1996 Tobacco Master Settlement agreement between the four principal U.S. tobacco companies and 46 states put an end to lawsuits brought by states but not to those brought by individuals.

If you have been harmed by a defective product, you may have a valid legal claim. To learn more about your options, please contact us for a free case review. Our offices are nationwide.

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posted by Benjamin A. Irwin at 10:47 AM

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