Man Wins $2 Million Verdict Against Tobacco Companies
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ In a case that could prompt a resurgence in lawsuits against the tobacco industry, a jury awarded $2 million to a man who claimed he got cancer from asbestos in cigarette filters.
While California law protects manufacturers against lawsuits for tobacco-related illness or death, 70-year-old Milton Horowitz’s lawyers argued that smoking wasn’t the issue.
The suit was a rare attempt to hold a company liable for asbestos in cigarettes, rather than for tobacco itself.
The jury Thursday awarded the Los Angeles psychologist $1.3 million in compensatory damages, which cover financial losses, pain and suffering. On Friday, the jury awarded him $700,000 in punitive damages, which are meant to punish misconduct and deter wrongdoing by others.
The American Cancer Society said it was only the second time a tobacco company lost a lawsuit over use of its products. A federal judge threw out the verdict in the first case, filed in 1983 in New Jersey.
``If this one holds up, this is really a pioneering approach,″ said Helen Jones, spokeswoman for the cancer group’s San Francisco office. ``It’s very encouraging.″
Horowitz alleged that Lorillard Tobacco Co. and Hollingsworth & Vose, a filter maker, exposed him to asbestos in the filters of Kent cigarettes. He has mesothelioma, a type of cancer frequently caused by asbestos.
Lorillard said it removed asbestos from its filters in 1956, but Jones said, ``It’s hard to be sure about that. The tobacco industry never tells you about the additives.″
Lorillard will appeal, said company lawyer William Ohlemeyer. The company defeated four previous lawsuits about the filters, he said.
``It is important to note that this is not a smoking and health case, nor one which will have any impact on the defense of smoking and health cases,″ the company said in a statement.
A spokesman for Hollingsworth did not immediately return a call.
The verdict ``sends a message to the companies that the behavior that they exhibited is not sanctioned by 12 ordinary people,″ said Madelyn J. Chaber, Horowitz’s lawyer.
Horowitz is weak and tired but not bedridden, Chaber said.
He testified that he started smoking unfiltered Old Gold cigarettes, made by Lorillard, in 1944. He said he switched to filter-tip Kents, another Lorillard brand, in 1952 after seeing advertisements promoting their health benefits.
He smoked a pack a day until 1963, when he quit. Horowitz was diagnosed with mesothelioma, which has a long latency period, last year.
Jurors thought the companies should have done more to test the safety of the filters, foreman Pete Villani said.
``We were trying to get the message out that what happened was wrong,″ Villani said.