NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A Connecticut smoker who developed larynx cancer has won $8 million in a lawsuit against a tobacco company, the first such jury verdict in New England, her attorney said Thursday.
David Golub, attorney for Barbara Izzarelli of Norwich, said Thursday a federal jury in Bridgeport made the award late Wednesday against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. after a two-week trial. He said a judge will decide additional punitive damages next month, which could bring the award to $24 million.
David Howard, spokesman for R.J. Reynolds, said the company was disappointed and plans to appeal.
Izzarelli, who is 49 and smoked Salem cigarettes for more than 25 years, underwent surgery at 36 that resulted in the removal of her larynx. She must breath through a hole in her throat, has no sense of smell and can eat only soft foods, Golub said.
"I'm ecstatic," Izzarelli said. "Now maybe I can go to any doctor I wish."
It was the first smoker's case to come to trial in Connecticut and the first jury verdict against a tobacco company in New England, Golub said.
Tobacco companies have downplayed the significance of verdicts against them in recent years in Florida as an aberration, but the verdict in Connecticut shows tobacco firms will be held liable around the country, said Dr. K. Michael Cummings, senior research scientist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo and the head of the New York State quit-line. He testified as an expert in the Connecticut and Florida cases.
"This unanimous verdict in Connecticut with its substantial damages and punitive damages award should send shivers down the tobacco companies' CEO's spines," Cummings said in a statement.
The jury in Connecticut held that the Salem cigarettes made by R.J. Reynolds were unreasonably dangerous and defectively designed and that the company had acted with reckless disregard for the safety of consumers and should be required to pay punitive damages, Golub said. Evidence in the trial established that Reynolds had undertaken a campaign in the early 1970s to market Salems to minors in order to establish a long-term customer base and had designed the cigarettes with enough nicotine above the threshold for addiction, Golub said.