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Award in cigarette liability case for former Norwich smoker balloons to $52.4 million as judge adds interest

December 26, 2018

By Josh Kovner, Hartford Courant, HARTFORD, CT (December 24, 2018) -- In the years since a Connecticut jury awarded former Norwich smoker Barbara Izzarelli a multi-million judgement in her case against the maker of Salem cigarettes, her lawyer noted several times that she’d offered to settle the case for $400,000.

Now that judgment has swelled to $52.4 million as U.S. District Judge Stefan Underhill has added additional money damages and interest dating to 1999 for which the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. is on the hook.

Underhill, in a Dec. 13 ruling, said evidence at the trial in 2010 showed “reprehensible” conduct on the part of R.J. Reynolds, including that the company knew its mentholated Salem cigarettes were “extremely carcinogenic and addictive” but continued selling them anyway.

Izzarelli had developed larynx cancer in 1997 at age 36 after smoking heavily since she was 12. The jury found her 42 percent responsible for her condition, but said the company bore the lion’s share of the liability.

The cancer claimed Izzarelli’s larynx and she breathes through a hole in her throat, said her lawyer, David Golub. She now lives in Florida.

Golub said her case was the first tobacco liability lawsuit to come to trial in New England. Since 2010, two Massachusetts juries have reached mutli-million verdicts against cigarette companies.

In its post-judgement appeals. R.J. Reynolds has argued that additional damages and interest would violate the company’s due-process rights. But Underhill said the company had the opportunity to accept the original settlement offer and plenty of chances to mount a vigorous defense.

As a smoker addicted to Salems, R.J. Reynolds “targeted her with a product that was specifically designed to addict her,” Golub said.

In fact, trial testimony showed Reynolds in the 1970s had aimed its marketing campaign at minors in order to create long-term customers.

The company denied that it tailored its advertising campaigns to children and teenagers.

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