In the News:   $28 million Judgment Upheld against NC cigarette maker R.J. Reynolds


[caption id="attachment_511" align="alignleft" width="216"] AP Photo/Norwich Bulletin, John Shishmanian[/caption] According to a report from the Winston-Salem Journal, a three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York has denied a second appeal from cigarette maker R.J. Reynolds, upholding a ruling from the lower court that awards a $28 million dollar judgment to a Connecticut smoker that developed cancer. At 36 years old, Norwich, Connecticut resident Barbara Izzarelli had her larynx, commonly called the Voicebox, removed. She had smoked R.J. Reynold’s brand of Salem Kings cigarettes for 25 years. In 1999, after surviving laryngeal cancer, Izzarelli sued the Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based R.J. Reynold and the court awarded her a $28 million dollar judgment. In the initial lawsuit, filed under the Connecticut products Liability Act, lawyers for Izzarelli alleged the cigarette was designed to include deadly ingredients, which R.J. Reynolds had knowingly manipulated leading to the nicotine in Salem Kings to get nonsmokers addicted and smokers to smoke more -- claims that R.J. Reynolds continues to deny. The case ended with Izzarelli being awarded a $28 million judgment against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco. The company quickly appealed the judgment. The appeal sent the case back to court, through the lengthy appeals process. That process included a March 2011 stop in trial court to make a determination about the breakdown of the original judgement, where it was determined the initial decision include $15.8 million in judgement interest. That was followed by another hearing where a jury determined that Izzarelli had some accountability for her illness, placing her 42% at fault or responsible for her illness, and determining R.J. Reynold’s be 58% to blame. Following this decision R.J. Reynold has continued to deny any responsibility for Izzarelli’s cancer, prolonging the appeals process as the case worked through the courts. In May of this year, as part of the appeals process, lawyers for both parties met for a briefing with the court regarding the facts of the case. According to reports, the most recent decisions handed down in the case resulted from that meeting. The rulings announced by the court on July 7, upheld the $28 million dollar judgment awarded to Izzarelli by the lower court. In addition to upholding the judgment against cigarette maker, the three-judge panel made a ruling that will send the case back to the trial court to see if the company must pay additional punitive damages. The panel of judges also made an additional, possibly more significant ruling related to the case. In their decision, the judges also determined that there was sufficient evidence to support Izzarelli’s claims that the design of the cigarette played a role in her cancer, with the panel of judges finding that “the particular blend of ingredients in Salem Kings caused” her laryngeal cancer. After the panel's ruling was announced, attorneys for R. J. Reynolds requested a new trial, citing claims of erroneous evidentiary rulings. The panel denied their request, bring the case one-step closer to complete for Barbara Izzarelli who is now 51 years old and living as a cancer survivor in Florida. To read the Winston-Salem Journal Coverage of the rulings click here.

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