Last week a jury awarded $8 million to one Barbara Izzarelli because she had developed laryngeal cancer after smoking for 20 years. Plaintiffs attorneys are hoping that this could open the door to more lawsuits against tobacco companies. There is still to be another hearing regarding punitive damages and if the U.S. District Judge, one Stefan Underhill, determines that is appropriate, the award amount could rise to $24 million.
R.J. Reynolds spokesman David Howard says the company will be appealing this verdict.
Izzarelli started smoking Salem cigarettes as a young teenager in the 1970s. She smoked daily and heavily and at the age of 37 had to have a total laryngectomy followed by radiation and chemotherapy treatments for her laryngeal cancer. She cannot breathe through her nose or throat but depends on a breathing tube directly in her throat. Her diet is entirely a soft one, such as mashed potatoes and various puddings.
Izzarelli’s product liability case, filed in 1999, was based on the claim that in 1954, R.J. Reynolds stated that if anyone could prove that a specific cigarette ingredient caused cancer, they would remove that ingredient. Izzarelli’s lawyer, one David Golub, claimed that although such a cancer link was established, R.J. Reynolds did not remove the ingredient – news reports do not say what the ingredient was.
Golub argued, and offered evidence, that R.J. Reynolds had gathered information about the smoking habits of people as young as 12 years of age, and in the 1970s, had developed new products to appeal to teenagers, selling them in teen hang-outs at lowered prices. 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.”
He himself has already brought two other cases against tobacco companies.
One Youth Marketing Claim Dismissed
However, R.J. Reynolds spokesman Howard said that the company’s defense team was not given an opportunity to assert their defense that cigarettes probably did not cause Izzarelli’s illness, nor were they allowed to contest the admission of youth marketing evidence.
- “[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,” said Howard.
Further, the jury had not absolved the plaintiff of responsibility for her own illness, but had found her to be 42 percent at fault for her heavy smoking.
It is appropriate to keep in mind that the link between cigarettes and cancer has been highly publicized since the 1950s and a warning has been clearly printed on every pack of cigarettes since that time. There is no way that Izzarelli did not know she was risking cancer.
Until now, according to Dr. K. Michael Cummings, who testified in this case, and who has often been asked to testify in tobacco litigation, tobacco companies never lost a case nationally between the 1950s and mid-1990s. Then in 1996, the four main U.S. tobacco companies came to a Tobacco Master Settlement agreement with 46 state attorneys general, agreeing to pay the states $206 billion.
That ended claims brought by states alleging that they had higher Medicaid costs because of cigarette-related illnesses. But it did not end claims brought by individuals. One has to wonder if there is any end in sight for tobacco lawsuits. Compensating for their reduced sales in the U.S., tobacco companies sell more of their products in other countries, so they still have enough money to attract lawsuits.
Starting a product liability lawsuit involves a lot of preparation, so do not delay if you have been harmed by a defective product. If you would like to learn more about your legal options, please contact our Mobile Alabama office today for a free case evaluation.