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Jury finds tobacco co. liable for man's fatal lung cancer.

Byline: Mass. Lawyers Weekly Staff

The plaintiff's husband was diagnosed in 2015 with lung cancer and died seven months later.

When the plaintiff's decedent was diagnosed with lung cancer, he and the plaintiff filed suit against two cigarette-makers and several manufacturers of asbestos-containing brake linings. The claims against all but one of the brake companies settled prior to trial.

The decedent had been a heavy smoker, having started smoking menthol cigarettes as a teenager in the 1950s. He also had worked for many years as an automobile brake mechanic, at one point performing three to four brake jobs a day, six days a week.

The plaintiff's lawyers presented evidence to the jury over the course of five weeks showing the decedent's addiction to menthol cigarettes and his exposure to asbestos dust from grinding brake linings. Neither the cigarettes nor the asbestos-containing brake linings came with a warning about their health hazards.

Before the decedent died, he gave videotaped testimony that was shown to the jury during trial.

The jury heard evidence about what tobacco companies knew regarding cigarette smoking by the 1950s and was shown internal company documents revealing that the amount of nicotine was precisely calculated and manipulated to initiate and sustain addiction in smokers. Documents also revealed that tobacco companies knew that adding menthol to cigarettes made it more likely for teenagers to start smoking, easier to create addiction in smokers, and harder for smokers to quit.

The jury also heard evidence that the defendant brake company had ignored the dangerous nature of asbestos dust and had neglected to test its brake linings to see if they released toxic asbestos fibers.

After four days of deliberation, the jury returned a $43.1 million verdict against one of the cigarette companies, awarding $5.3 million for pain and suffering, $3.5 million for loss of consortium, $4.3 million for wrongful death, and $30 million in punitive damages. The jury found that the other defendant cigarette company and the defendant brake company were not responsible for the decedent's lung cancer.

Action: Products liability

Injuries alleged: Lung cancer resulting in death

Case name: Summerlin v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, et al.

Court/case no.: Suffolk Superior Court/1581-CV-05255

Jury and/or judge: Jury/Judge Heidi E. Brieger

Amount: $43.1 million

Date: Oct. 12, 2018

Attorneys: Michael C. Shepard, Michael J. McCann and Erika A. O'Donnell, of Shepard Law, Boston; and Jerry H. Block, Bobby Ellis and Amber R. Long, of Levy Konigsberg, New York (for the plaintiff)

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Title Annotation:Summerlin v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Suffolk Superior Court, Massachusetts
Publication:Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly
Date:Nov 15, 2018
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