There is a long history of personal injury and wrongful death litigation, in New Jersey and across the country, against cigarette manufacturers and marketers in regards to deaths caused by lung cancer and similar diseases, in which the deceased was a long-time smoker. More often than not, these lawsuits are not successful. However, after allegations that a cigarette manufacturer provided free cigarettes to young children during the 1950s and 1960s, starting a now-deceased woman’s lifelong smoking habit, a Massachusetts jury found the cigarette company liable for her illness and death, awarding over $150 million to her son.

According to the complaint filed by plaintiff Willie Evans, Lorillard Tobacco Company handed out Newport cigarettes to his mother, Marie Evans, and other neighborhood children during the late 1950s and early 1960s. She began smoking and continued to do so until her 2002 death at age 54 after a bout with small cell lung cancer.

During the wrongful death trial, jurors were played a video deposition taken three weeks before Marie’s death, in which she described receiving cigarettes from Lorillard employees when she was just nine years old. In response, Lorillard argued that Marie’s “50-year-old memories were persuasively contradicted by testimony from several witnesses.” The jury ruled in the favor of the plaintiff, awarding Willie Evans $71 million in compensatory damages and $81 million in punitive damages.

Willie alleged that Lorillard “developed techniques to manipulate and control the nicotine delivery of its cigarettes so as to create and sustain addiction in smokers, including Marie Evans.” A company spokesman countered, stating that the manufacturer plans to appeal. “Lorillard respectfully disagrees with the jury’s verdict and denies the plaintiff’s claim that the company sampled to children or adults,” said Gregg Perry.

While Willie Evans is most likely pleased with the jury’s ruling, he stated that he would have preferred a much different outcome altogether. “It’s certainly bittersweet,” he said. “If I had my choice, I would have preferred the tobacco company not to have given my mother cigarettes as a nine-year-old child.”

Source: CNN, “Jury awards family $152 million in damages over smoking wrongful death”, Sally Garner, 16 December 2010