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Tobacco company ordered to pay $81m in punitive damages to Roxbury woman's estate

Posted by Metro Desk  December 16, 2010 03:42 PM

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Evans Family

Marie Evans and her son, William, posed for a photograph in 2002, the year she died of lung cancer.

A Suffolk Superior Court jury today decided that the Lorillard Inc. should be sanctioned for seducing a Roxbury woman into a lifelong – and fatal -- addiction to Newport cigarettes and ordered them to pay the estate of Marie Evans an additional $81 million in punitive damages.

Those sanctions, announced this afternoon in a Boston courtroom, are in addition to the $71 million in compensatory damages the same jury awarded earlier this week. Evans estate was awarded $50 million in compensatory damages, and her son, William, was awarded $21 million.

Today, only Marie Evans's estate, as the person directly injured by the company's action, was eligible to collect punitive damages.

William Evans, a Harvard Law School graduate who has spent years battling the tobacco company, wept and hugged one of his attorneys when the punitive damages were announced this afternoon.

The jury’s decision came after a short period of deliberation, especially when compared to the six days they spent reviewing the evidence in the civil trial before concluding the tobacco company’s marketing plans induced Evans to start smoking as a child. She died in 2002 from lung cancer.

Earlier today, the main lawyer for Lorillard asked the jurors to no longer hold the company accountable for the past.

“The focus is solely on the present and the future,” Walter Cofer, a Kansas City-based attorney representing tobacco company Lorillard Inc., told jurors today.

He said the company had rectified the problems that were alleged during the recent trial: The company no longer passes out samples of Newport cigarettes, it no longer advertises cigarettes on radio or television, and the company agrees that cigarettes cause cancer and other diseases.

“You don’t get punished today for moving in the right direction,” Cofer said.

But attorney Michael Weisman, representing Evans’s estate and her only son, said jurors should punish Lorillard for the acts of the past with a financial penalty to make sure such acts never occur again.

Weisman, of the Boston firm Davis, Malm & D’Agostine, said jurors should have no sympathy for a company just because it is now following the law.

“That’s like saying, ‘we’re obeying the law because it’s the law.’ That’s impressive,” Weissman said. “How about saying, ‘we’re trying to get children to stop smoking, because it’s the right thing to do’.”

The jury had already awarded $71 million in compensatory damages in a groundbreaking decision Tuesday that found the company seduced Evans into smoking when she was just 13 years old by handing out samples of Newports.

The sampling was part of a broader marketing strategy to reach out to youngsters in black neighborhoods, where menthol brands are particular popular. The jury found that Lorillard Inc. acted with negligence, breach of trust, and in a manner that was wanton and reckless.

The novel aspects of the verdict were that it was the first lawsuit challenging the marketing and sampling of cigarettes to youngsters, and the size of the award. It is believed to be the largest award for compensatory damages in a wrongful death suit against a tobacco company in the country.

The case could have implications in Washington, D.C., where federal officials are considering a ban on menthol cigarettes.

Earlier today, both sides introduced financial experts who testified about the financial status of Lorillard Inc., which the jury used in deciding punitive damages.

Robert Johnson, a forensic scientist from California, said that Lorillard is in “solid” shape and that its revenue from sales grew to $5.2 billion last year, up from $4.2 billion the year before. He said the company has $1 billion in cash at hand.

But Robert H. Temkin, a Massachusetts-based certified public accountant testifying for Lorillard, said the company is most appropriately judged by its operating values of about $844 million in yearly income, once liabilities are accounted for.

Originally published on the blog MetroDesk.

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