New York City Jury Awards $20 Million in Punitive Damages in Smoker Lawsuit
A New York City jury on Friday awarded $20 million in punitive damages to the widow of a smoker who died from lung cancer, a verdict that marks the first time a jury in the Northeast has imposed punitive damages on a tobacco company in a lawsuit that involved an individual smoker since an "eventually abandoned" 1988 New Jersey case, the New York Times reports. In the New York case, the jury found Brown & Williamson, the third largest tobacco company in the nation and a subsidiary of British American Tobacco Company, guilty of "fraudulently concealing the health risks of smoking" and ordered the company to pay $8 million in punitive damages, according to the Times. The jury also ordered two defunct tobacco industry trade groups, the Tobacco Institute and the Council for Tobacco Research, to pay a total of $12 million in punitive damages. According to some trial attorneys and financial analysts, the $20 million verdict "could be a turning point, encouraging many more suits against tobacco companies," and could indicate that "there are cracks in what was for decades a legal armor that seemed to make tobacco companies invulnerable," the Times reports. The verdict also "will force the industry to stop saying these large punitive damage awards from juries are just some aberration from the West Coast," Mary Aronson, an analyst who studies tobacco lawsuits for investors, said.
Michael London, an attorney for plaintiff Gladys Frankson, said that the jury "sent a message" that the tobacco industry is responsible for smoking-related deaths. Brown & Williamson said in a statement that the "verdict is outrageous" (Glaberson, New York Times, 1/10). Brown & Williamson attorney Gareth Cooper also said that the company expects to win an appeal of the verdict (Weissenstein, AP/Albany Times Union, 1/10).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.