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Son wishes mother was alive after tobacco company ordered to pay $152m

Posted by Metro Desk  December 16, 2010 07:42 PM

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The son of a Roxbury woman who died from lung cancer said today he wished his mother was still alive – and not the reason Lorillard Inc. has been ordered to pay her $152 million in compensatory and punitive damages for starting her lifelong addiction to smoking when she was a child.

“This is a bittersweet moment,’’ William Evans said today at Suffolk Superior Court in downtown Boston after a jury awarded his mother’s estate $81 million in punitive damages. The same jury on Tuesday awarded $50 million in compensatory damages to the estate and $21 million to William Evans.

“If I had my choice I’d rather have my mom here,’’ Evans said today. “I’d rather be able to go back in time and not have Lorillard give her free cigarettes when she was 9 years old and get her addicted to cigarettes and ultimately cause her death. That would be my wish.’’

He added, “I’m relieved and thankful that the 14 members of the jury recognized the harm Lorillard caused and held them accountable and so I’m thankful and really grateful for that.”

In two companion verdicts this week, the Suffolk Superior Court jury reached the groundbreaking conclusion that Lorillard Inc seduced Evans into smoking when she was a child by handing out free samples of Newports in her Boston neighborhood.

The jury concluded today the company should be punished for its actions, and today awarded $81 million in punitive damages to Evans’ estate. William Evans was not eligible for punitive damages because he was not directly harmed, lawyers said.

The sampling was part of a broader marketing strategy to reach out to youngsters in black neighborhoods, where menthol brands are particular popular. The jury found that Lorillard Inc. acted with negligence, breach of trust, and in a manner that was wanton and reckless.

The novel aspects of the verdict were that it was the first lawsuit challenging the marketing and sampling of cigarettes to youngsters, and the size of the award. It is believed to be the largest award for compensatory damages in a wrongful death suit against a tobacco company in the country.

The case could have implications in Washington, D.C., where federal officials are considering a ban on menthol cigarettes.

“She was addicted,’’ William Evans said today. “Obviously, had she had a choice, she would not have smoked, and the record was clear about that. She made over 50 attempts to try to stoop smoking and she was addicted. She had no free will.’’

Marie Evans died in 2002, but not before she gave videotaped depositions about her struggle to stop smoking, depositions that were played for the jury during the trial.

Through a spokesman, the company said today that it still believes the jury got it wrong and repeated it vow to see its corporate name cleared through appeals.

"Lorillard respectfully disagrees with the jury’s verdict and denies the plaintiff's claim that the company sampled to children or adults at Orchard Park in the early 1960's,’’ the company said earlier this week, a view it said today it reaffirms.

Earlier today, the main lawyer for Lorillard asked the jurors to no longer hold the company accountable for the past.

“The focus is solely on the present and the future,” Walter Cofer, a Kansas City-based attorney representing tobacco company Lorillard Inc., told jurors today.

He said the company had rectified the problems that were alleged during the recent trial: The company no longer passes out samples of Newport cigarettes, it no longer advertises cigarettes on radio or television, and the company agrees that cigarettes cause cancer and other diseases.

“You don’t get punished today for moving in the right direction,” Cofer said.

After the punitive damages were announced Evans family attorney Michael Weisman welcomed their decision.

“This jury heard the evidence, they listened, they deliberated for six days, and they did justice. I’m gratified,’’ said Weisman of the firm, Davis, Malm and D'Agostino. ”Marie Evans was a dignified wonderful human being, as is Willie, and this was just a remarkable jury. The system worked.’’

He added, “I feel like promises we made to Marie Evans eight years ago were kept. I’m thinking about Marie Evans who, three weeks before she died, sat for three days of deposition because she wanted to tell her story.She told her story and the verdict heard it.”

Andrew C. Meyer Jr., a personal injury and medical malpractice lawyer in Boston, said the punitive damages award struck him as modest given the range of values given for Lorillard and the $50 million in compensatory damages awarded to Evans’s estate.

The US Supreme Court, he explained, has ruled that punitive damages should be no more than two or three times the value of compensatory damages. Punitive damages are ``directly related to how much money it would take to sting the defendant, so as to punish them for causing this harm.’’

Lorillard, like other tobacco companies that have lost wrongful death lawsuits, will undoubtedly ask the trial judge to cut the awards, Meyer said. But, he went on, ``It is highly unusual for a judge to interfere with a determination of the jury unless that determination is so outlandish as to be beyond an acceptable amount.’’

Given the history of tobacco litigation, he said, Lorillard will then undoubtedly pursue the matter vigorously in the state appeals courts. ``This is going to be a long time in the appellate courts,’’ he said.

Mark Gottlieb, director of the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University School of Law, said in a statement that Evans verdict of $152 million “is currently the largest verdict in an individual smoking and health case.’’ He said in the statement that larger verdicts in Calfornia and Florida were later reduced by the courts.

Edward L. Sweda, Jr. , who has fought tobacco companies in courtrooms for years, said in the same statement that the verdict “clearly reflects this American jury’s outrage at the predatory conduct of Lorillard Tobacco Company – conduct that was a legal cause of Marie Evans’ death from lung cancer at age 54.”

Originally published on the blog MetroDesk.

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