HARTFORD, Conn. - (Mealey's) A Connecticut jury capped a month-long trial May 27 by awarding a cancer-afflicted smoker $8 million against the cigarette maker she blamed for her illness; the verdict for the plaintiff is reportedly the first in New England (Barbara A. Izzarelli v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., No. 3:99cv02338, D. Conn.).
Approximately 25 years after she began smoking, Barbara Izzarelli sued R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (RJR) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, seeking damages for personal injury, including laryngeal cancer, under the Connecticut Product Liability Act and the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act.
Among other things, Izzarelli alleged that RJR's Salem cigarettes are defective and unreasonably dangerous in that they are addictive and that RJR intentionally manipulated the cigarettes to enhance their addictive properties so that consumers would smoke more of them. She also charged that RJR has long pursued a marketing strategy targeting minors in the hopes that they would become addicted to cigarettes and provide a long-term base of consumers.
Trial began before Judge Stefan R. Underhill on April 28 and lasted nearly a month. The nine-member jury deliberated for about a day before finding in favor of Izzarelli awarding $13.9 million in compensatory damages.
However, the jury determined that RJR was 58 percent liable for Izzarelli's injuries, with Izzarelli herself being 42 percent responsible because she continued to smoke. Accordingly, damages were reduced to approximately $8 million.
Judge Underhill indicated that he would decide the appropriate amount of punitive damages at a later date. Under Connecticut law, the judge can add up to twice the $8 million in compensatory damages awarded by the jury, which could bring the total to $24 million. Judge Underhill gave the parties 21 days to brief the issue of punitive damages.
The Associated Press reported that the verdict is the first in New England in favor of a tobacco plaintiff.
[Editor's Note: Full coverage will be in the June issue of Mealey's Litigation Report: Tobacco. In the meantime, the proposed uncompleted verdict form is available at www.mealeysonline.com or by calling the Customer Support Department at 1-800-833-9844. Document #04-100618-001V. For all of your legal news needs, please visit www.lexisnexis.com/mealeys.]
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