A verdict of almost $30 million against tobacco company R.J. Reynolds will stand after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the case.
Barbara Izzarelli, a former smoker who developed cancer of the larynx, sued R.J. Reynolds in U.S. district court in Connecticut, arguing that the company marketed to minors and that Salem cigarettes had nicotine levels that would lead to addiction.
The jury held that R.J. Reynolds acted with reckless disregard for its customers’ safety by selling an unreasonably dangerous and defectively designed product.
An appeals court last year upheld the 2010 district court verdict, and, after the Supreme Court passed on the case, the district court judge now must decide the amount of punitive damages.
How $400,000 became $30 Million or More
The amount of the damages has gone up and down and will likely go up again. Here is a summary of changes in the award:
- In 2010, a jury awarded Izzarelli $13.6 million in compensatory damages.
- Under the comparative negligence system, the jury determined that Izzarelli was 42 percent at fault for smoking, reducing the tobacco company’s liability. Accordingly, the award amount was reduced to about $8 million.
- The judge in the case added $4 million in punitive damages.
- In 1999, before trial, R.J. Reynolds declined a settlement offer of $400,000. Because she won her case, Izzarelli is entitled to that original settlement offer plus 12 percent annual interest, adding $15.7 million.
- Interest that accumulated before the judgment was reached brings the total to $28.1 million.
- The Second Circuit directed the lower court judge to reconsider the punitive damages, and the judge could now award additional punitive damages up to two times the compensatory damages, which could add another $15.8 million to the verdict.
Is This Different from Past Judgments Against Tobacco Companies?
The award is significant because it is the first of its kind in New England. Tobacco industry leaders had claimed that a series of class-action verdicts against them in Florida were flukes, but it appears they were wrong…
One public health expert who testified during the trial in Connecticut said the verdict “should send shivers down the tobacco companies’ CEO’s spines.”
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If you have been hurt in an accident caused by another person’s negligence or by a dangerous product, call the Myrtle Beach personal injury attorneys at Coastal Law today at (843) 488-5000 or fill out our online form to set up a free consultation to discuss your case.