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On Wednesday, May 26, a jury in Connecticut returned an $8 million dollar verdict in favor of plaintiff Barbara Izzarelli against tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Her attorney says this is the first such verdict in New England. Izzarelli was a smoker for 25 years and developed cancer of the larynx. At this time, the judge still has possible punitive damages to consider and that could bring the verdict up to as much as $24 million.
According to the Associated Press, at the age of 36, Barbara Izzarelli developed cancer and had to have her larynx removed. As a result, she must breath through a hole in her throat, has no sense of smell, and can only eat soft foods. Although the jury found Izzarelli partially responsible for her smoking (and reduced her damages award accordingly), they found R.J. Reynolds began a campaign in the 1970's to market to minors like the young Izzarelli. "Barbara Izzarelli was targeted by Reynolds when she was 12 years old with a product specifically designed to addict her," her attorney, David Golub, said.
The AP reports this is the first such major tobacco verdict in New England. Although the tobacco companies have downplayed the significance of a recent Florida verdict, experts say the Connecticut result shows cases are viable around the nation. In Florida, a judge reduced a verdict against Philip Morris from a staggering $300 million, to a still important $39 million, just this past February. The $300 million had been the highest damages award from the thousands of lawsuits filed by individual Florida smokers after a judge refused to allow their cases to go forward as a single class action.
"I do think people will bring more cases now," Golub said.
Spokesman for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, David Howard, said the company was disappointed and plans to appeal. He denied the company targets youths and said cigarettes have come with warnings since the 1960's.
The plaintiff was very happy with the outcome of the case. "I'm ecstatic," Izzarelli said. "Now maybe I can go to any doctor I wish."