JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – “A jury Wednesday ordered Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. to pay nearly $1 million to the family of a man who died of lung cancer after smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes for almost 50 years – the biggest liability award ever against the industry.
Roland Maddox was diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 1996 and died a year later at age 67. His family sued Brown & Williamson, claiming the company was negligent, made a defective product and conspired with other tobacco companies to hide the health risks of smoking from the public.
The jury agreed and awarded $500,000 in compensatory damages and $450,000 in punitive damages to the Maddox family, as well as $52,249 to Blue Cross and Blue Shield as repayment for Maddox’s medical expenses.
Maddox’s daughter, Angela Widdick, began sobbing when the first of the verdicts was announced. The plaintiffs’ attorneys smiled but there was no visible reaction from the tobacco company attorneys.
New York-listed shares in Brown & Williamson’s parent, B.A.T Industries PLC, fell almost 3% on news of the decision. B.A.T was off 56 cents at $19.62½ on the American Stock Exchange on Wednesday afternoon.
“Don’t let them get away with it,” Norwood Wilner, an attorney representing the Maddox family, had said in closing arguments Monday.
The four-week trial was Wilner’s fourth trial against tobacco companies. In 1996, a Jacksonville jury awarded Grady Carter, a smoker with lung cancer, a judgment of $750,000 from Brown & Williamson – previously the record liability award against the industry. That case is still on appeal. After that, Wilner lost two cases against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.
Besides today’s verdict and the Carter case, the only other jury monetary award against a tobacco company in a liability case was won in 1988 by the family of Rose Cipollone of New Jersey. But that $400,000 award was overturned on appeal, and the lawsuit was dropped.
John Nyhan, an attorney for Brown & Williamson, had argued the company should not be held liable for Maddox’s personal choice.
“I hope you will ask yourself whether it isn’t wrong to be using our justice system to get rich,” he said. “Isn’t it wrong to be trying to get a lot of money by blaming others when something unfortunate happens?”
In depositions, Maddox’s co-workers at a grocery store said he enjoyed smoking, laughed at health risks and called cigarettes “coffin nails,” company lawyers had said.
Wilner agreed that Maddox bore some responsibility for his cancer after so many years of smoking, but he claimed the tobacco company also should be held responsible.
Liggett Group, Inc. also was a defendant in this case because Maddox smoked one of its brands of cigarettes for a few years. A settlement for an undisclosed amount was reached with the company during jury selection.”