Norwich smoker wins $8m award
Cancer lawsuit verdict is a first for New England
NEW HAVEN — A Connecticut smoker who developed cancer of the larynx has won $8 million in a lawsuit against a tobacco company, the first such jury verdict in New England, her attorney said yesterday.
David Golub, attorney for Barbara Izzarelli of Norwich, said yesterday that a federal jury in Bridgeport made the award late Wednesday against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. after a two-week trial. He said a judge will decide additional punitive damages next month, which could bring the award to $24 million.
David Howard, spokesman for R.J. Reynolds, said the company was disappointed and plans to appeal.
Izzarelli, who is 49 and who smoked Salem cigarettes for more than 25 years, underwent surgery at 36 that resulted in the removal of her larynx. She must breath through a hole in her throat, has no sense of smell, and can eat only soft foods, Golub said.
It was the first smoker’s case to come to trial in Connecticut and the first jury verdict against a tobacco company in New England, Golub said.
Tobacco companies have downplayed verdicts against them in Florida in recent years, calling them aberrations.
But the verdict in Connecticut shows tobacco firms will be held liable around the country, said Dr. K. Michael Cummings, senior research scientist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo and the head of New York State’s telephone counseling service for smokers who are trying to quit. He testified as an expert in the Connecticut and Florida cases.
In February, a judge in Florida reduced $300 million in damages awarded to a smoker against Philip Morris USA to nearly $39 million, concluding that a jury had been moved by emotion rather than hard evidence.
The lawsuits were filed after the Florida Supreme Court in 2006 threw out a $145 billion class-action jury award for all Florida smokers, by far the highest punitive damage award in US history.
The court said each smoker’s case had to be decided individually, but smokers do not have to prove individually the key findings of the original jury: that tobacco companies knowingly sold dangerous products and hid smoking risks from the public.
The jury in Connecticut held that the Salem cigarettes made by R.J. Reynolds were unreasonably dangerous and defectively designed and that the company had acted with reckless disregard for the safety of consumers and should be required to pay punitive damages, Golub said.
Evidence was presented that Reynolds had undertaken a campaign in the early 1970s to market Salems to minors to establish a long-term demand and had designed the cigarettes with nicotine above the threshold for addiction, Golub said.
Howard denied the company targets youths. He said cigarettes have come with warnings since the 1960s.