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Tobacco manufacturer requests retrial in wrongful death case

A tobacco manufacturer ordered to pay $116 million over the 2002 lung-cancer death of a 54-year-old woman has requested that those damages be vacated and a retrial be ordered. The company argues that its initial trial was not conducted fairly. In lieu of such an action, North Carolina-based Lorillard asked the court to reduce its ordered payments to the victim's estate to $1 million.

The victim's son, 42, filed the wrongful death lawsuit after his mother died of cancer after smoking over a pack of Lorillard's cigarettes each day for 40 years. According to the suit, the victim began smoking the cigarettes at the age of 13 when Lorillard distributed free cigarettes to teenagers in the housing project where she grew up in the 1950s.

The victim was recorded in a deposition several weeks prior to her death. In the footage, she claimed Lorillard intentionally tried to appeal to her and other young people with the sample campaign.

Lorillard claims the initial trial allowed the jury to unfairly punish it for its wealth. The company, which produces well-known cigarette brands like Kent, Maverick and Newport, listed net sales of approximately $6.5 billion in 2011. Lorillard's appellate counsel declined to comment on the retrial request, but called the 2010 ruling against the company unconstitutionally excessive in a brief filed with the court.

The victim's son, himself an attorney, said he has not received any money from Lorillard since the initial ruling in 2010. He claimed the company indeed received a fair trial and that the proceedings should not have gone on for so long.

This case should remind North Carolina residents that incredibly wealthy companies will do what is in their power to avoid paying out to victims of bad business practices. When a manufacturer creates a dangerous product and doesn't properly inform consumers of the risks, then injuries and death can occur. It is then up to plaintiffs and their attorneys to hold the responsible parties accountable.

Source: Boston Herald, "Tobacco company seeks wrongful-death retrial," Laurel J. Sweet, Dec. 3, 2012

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