– Appeals Court Upholds First Jury Verdict against a Tobacco Company in New England History —
STAMFORD, CT (July 7, 2017) – The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a decision today upholding a $28 million judgment against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company for damages sustained by an injured Connecticut smoker, Barbara Izzarelli, formerly of Norwich, CT. The appeals court also remanded the case for a further award of punitive damages.
A federal court jury had awarded Ms. Izzarelli $7.9 million after a 14-day trial in Bridgeport federal court in May 2010 before Federal District Court Judge Stefan Underhill. Judge Underhill awarded punitive damages in the amount of $3.9 million and prejudgment interest increased the total judgment to more than $28 million.
The case was the first smoker’s case to come to trial in Connecticut and was the first jury verdict ever returned against a tobacco company in New England history.
Ms. Izzarelli developed larynx cancer after smoking Salem cigarettes for more than 25 years. She was forced to undergo surgery at age 36 that resulted in the removal of her larynx and requires her to breathe through a hole in her throat. She cannot breathe through her nose or mouth, has no sense of smell and can only eat soft foods.
Ms. Izzarelli, who is now 57 years old and lives in Holly Hill, FL, began smoking Salem cigarettes in the early 1970s when she was a young teenager. Evidence in the trial established that Reynolds had undertaken a campaign at that time to market Salems to minors in order to establish a long-term customer base. Evidence also established that Reynolds had designed Salem cigarettes with a set level of nicotine that would provide a daily dose of nicotine above the threshold for nicotine addiction.
The jury held that the Salem cigarettes, manufactured by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, were unreasonably dangerous and defectively designed. The jury also ruled that Reynolds had acted with reckless disregard for the safety of consumers.
David S. Golub, of the Stamford law firm of Silver Golub & Teitell, who represented Ms. Izzarelli, noted that the jury had rejected Reynolds’ claim that Ms. Izzarelli had made a “free choice” to smoke.
“Barbara Izzarelli was targeted by Reynolds when she was 12 years old with a product that was specifically designed to addict her,” he said. “This has been a long fight, but today’s verdict underscores that a Connecticut jury will not accept a tobacco company’s claim that a minor made a ‘free choice’ to begin smoking and will impose substantial damages – including punitive damages – for targeting minors and setting nicotine doses to create addiction.”
Before issuing its decision today on Reynolds’ appeal, the Second Circuit had requested the Connecticut Supreme Court’s guidance on how Connecticut law applied to cases against cigarette manufacturers. The Connecticut Supreme Court issued two decisions in mid- and late-2016 broadly supporting lawsuits in Connecticut by injured smokers against cigarette companies, and the Second Circuit relied on those decisions in affirming the judgment for Ms. Izzarelli. The Second Circuit also remanded the case to Judge Underhill for further consideration of the amount of punitive damages that Ms. Izzarelli is entitled to recover.
Dr. K. Michael Cummings, Professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, testified as an expert on the public health issues in the case and who has also testified in cases against tobacco companies in the State of Florida, where there has been a determination of liability against the major tobacco companies on behalf of a class of smokers, commented on the significance of the verdict:
“The tobacco companies have discounted the significance of the verdicts against them in Florida as an aberration because of the Engel class action there. This verdict demonstrates that the verdicts in Florida are no flukes and that the tobacco companies will be held liable in the Northeast and elsewhere. This unanimous verdict in Connecticut, with its substantial damages and punitive damages award, should send shivers down the tobacco companies’ CEO’s spines.”
One of plaintiff’s key witnesses was Dr. Neil Grunberg, a Professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, MD. Dr. Grunberg was one of the principal editors of the 1988 Report by the United States Surgeon General that established that nicotine is addictive. For years following the issuance of that Report, the tobacco industry continued to deny that nicotine was addictive.
About Silver Golub & Teitell LLP
Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, Silver Golub & Teitell LLP is one of the leading trial law firms in Connecticut, focusing on plaintiff’s-side complex civil litigation. The firm’s cases have had a significant impact on diverse areas of both state and national law. www.sgtlaw.com
David Golub Randy Savicky
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