In what is said to be the fist time a jury has found a tobacco company liable because it distributed free samples of its product, a Massachusetts jury has awarded $71 million to the estate and family of a woman who had said she received free Newport cigarettes at age 9.
The Boston Globe reported Dec. 15 that the estate of Marie Evans was awarded $50 million in compensatory damages in the Suffolk County Superior Court case against the tobacco company Lorillard, with Evans’ only son receiving $21 million. Substantially more could be awarded in a punitive-damages phase of the trial, although the company plans to appeal the initial judgment and denies that it ever gave out free cigarettes to children, attributing Evans’ statements to faulty memory.
Evans, who died of lung cancer in 2002 at age 54, gave videotaped depositions that described Lorillard representatives driving a box truck through a Boston housing development where she lived as a child, handing out Newports to the community’s children. She said she started smoking the cigarettes at age 12 and eventually became addicted, not being able to quit despite many attempts.
The Massachusetts jury placed 70 percent of the blame for Evans’ death on the tobacco company and 30 percent on Evans. Legal analysts consider the verdict unusual, saying that lawsuits against tobacco companies fail two-thirds of the time because jurors often will not sympathize with smokers.
The case focused on Lorillard’s targeting of an urban community with a menthol brand that is popular among African-Americans. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is looking into whether menthol cigarettes should be included in the current ban on flavored cigarettes.