jueves, 3 de marzo de 2011

Conn. smoker gets another $15.7M against company

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) -- A federal judge has awarded nearly $16 million in interest to a smoker who already had won $12 million against a tobacco company in the first such jury award in New England.
Judge Stefan Underhill awarded about $15.7 million to Barbara Izzarelli, a Norwich resident who developed larynx cancer. She had won her case last year against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
Underhill rejected claims by R.J. Reynolds that the interest was excessive. He says interest is mandatory under the law and is designed to encourage defendants to accept reasonable settlement offers.
"R.J. Reynolds possessed the ability, at any point in the years leading up to trial, to settle this case and thereby avoid the imposition of offer of judgment interest," Underhill wrote on Wednesday.
Izzarelli's attorney, David Golub, says his side had offered to settle for $400,000. The interest dates back to 1999 when the lawsuit was filed.
"This is absolutely required by law and it's the penalty that cigarette companies have to pay for refusing to settle," Golub said. "They probably spent ten times that much, if not 100 times that much, litigating this case."
The company will appeal the entire case, a spokesman said Thursday.
Izzarelli's case 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. He said his case and a jury award in Boston involving another tobacco company show juries in New England will award damages to smokers.
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 and has no sense of smell, and can only eat soft foods, Golub said.
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, 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.
The company denied targeting youths and noted that cigarettes have carried health warnings since the 1960s.
The jury found Izzarelli's compensatory damages totaled $13.9 million, but ruled that both Reynolds and Izzarelli bore responsibility for her smoking injuries. The jury allocated responsibility 58 percent to Reynolds and 42 percent to Izzarelli, reducing her award to about $8 million. She won another $4 million in punitive damages.