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Court dismisses civil judgment in tobacco case

Many North Carolina residents have benefitted from tobacco settlements. After all, the southeastern part of the nation is the seat of the nation's cigarette industry. Now, a new change to a civil suit against tobacco companies may change the way settlements are distributed among smoking's many victims. The family of a Boston woman will not receive the full $81 million in punitive damages awarded in a wrongful death suit related to tobacco use.

Official reports show the woman received free cigarette samples as a child. Her family will be permitted to keep the $35 million in compensatory damages in connection with the suit, but Massachusetts' high court will not permit the family to receive the $81 million in punitive damages that would have been rendered. A new trial has been ordered to decide punitive damages. The suit had been brought against a North Carolina-based cigarette manufacturer after the woman died in 2002 at age 54.

The woman argued through videotaped depositions she had received multiple free samples of cigarettes as she visited a playground near her house as a child. She became a regular smoker at the tender age of 13 because of these offerings. The woman ended up smoking more than a pack a day, attempting to quit more than 50 times before she died.

Court officials decided the jurors in the civil case had not received appropriate instructions about wrongful death theory when they made their decision. This wrongful death choice was based on accusations of negligence through design and marketing. The court also decided the woman's death was not caused by the cigarette company's negligence. The company is still attempting to appeal the decision regarding compensatory damages in the case.

Even though the court overturned a significant ruling in favor of the family, it appears that the victim's relatives will still receive a multimillion-dollar judgment in connection with the case. These benefits can pay for funeral expenses and attorneys' fees, along with other tangible costs. Punitive damages are designed as punishment for companies and individuals who are blatantly negligent in their actions.

Source:  www.patriotledger.com, "Mass. court tosses half of $81 million judgment against tobacco company" Bridget Murphy, Jun. 11, 2013

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