A Boston jury slapped tobacco-maker Lorillard with $81 million in punitive damages in the case brought by the estate of a woman who said she began smoking after receiving free samples from the company starting at age nine, The Boston Globe reported Dec. 17.
Marie Evans, who died at age 54 in 2002 of lung cancer, testified in depositions that company representatives came to her neighborhood and gave out free samples of Newport menthol cigarettes to children, including herself. She began smoking at age 13 and tried to quit many times.
The $81 million award is in addition to the $71 million in compensatory damages the jury awarded earlier this week to Evans’ estate and to her only son. According to the Globe, “compensatory damages are given to compensate for wrongdoing, in this case Evans’s death, and punitive damages are to punish the company for its actions and to deter similar action.”
Lorillard is appealing and the damages may be eliminated or reduced, but if the verdict stands, it would be the largest ever rendered against a tobacco company. The jury’s decision is expected to have an impact on other cases and could influence the deliberations of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as it contemplates banning menthol flavoring in cigarettes.
“This could influence national policy,’’ said Greg Connolly of the Harvard School of Public Health.
During the trial, Walter Cofer, a lawyer representing Lorillard, argued that the company should not be held responsible for past marketing practices. ”You don’t get punished today for moving in the right direction,’’ he said.
Michael Weisman, representing the plaintiff, replied, “That’s like saying, ’We’re obeying the law because it’s the law.’ That’s impressive,’’ he said. “How about saying, ’We’re trying to get children to stop smoking, because it’s the right thing to do.’ ’’