Woburn, MA— A Massachusetts state court jury Monday awarded $4.2 million to the family of a woman who died of lung cancer following years of smoking, after finding tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds responsible for her death. Hunt v. R.J. Reynolds, 1881-CV-00446.
Mary Hunt had her first cigarette as a teenager in the 1960s and smoked Kent brand cigarettes for years. Although she quit smoking in 2013, doctors diagnosed her with lung cancer in 2015. She ultimately died from the disease that year. Her family contends false tobacco marketing and an industry-wide conspiracy to conceal the dangers of smoking are responsible for her cancer.
Monday’s verdict found Reynolds, which now owns Kent’s original manufacturer, Lorillard Tobacco Company, liable on misrepresentation and conspiracy claims. The award includes $2 million to Hunt’s husband, $600,000 to each of Hunt’s two children, and $1 million for Hunt’s pain and suffering.
However, jurors cleared Reynolds on other claims, including breach of the implied warranty of merchantability, and declined to award punitive damages in the case.
The 13-day trial focused largely on tobacco messaging and whether it influenced Hunt’s smoking decisions.
Reynolds contends Hunt understood the risks of smoking and was not influenced by tobacco marketing. During last week’s closings, Jones Day’s Emily Baker told jurors Hunt was repeatedly warned by her family and others about the risks of smoking, and there was no evidence linking any of Hunt’s smoking decisions to tobacco marketing.
“Even if you believe that tobacco companies were trying to mislead the public, Mrs. Hunt knew that smoking was dangerous. She didn’t rely on any industry statements,” Baker said. “She wasn’t paying attention to what tobacco companies were saying or doing.”
But the Hunt family’s attorney, Andrew Rainer, of the Public Health Advocacy Institute, argued that false tobacco marketing was so pervasive that it influenced Hunt’s beliefs on smoking. On Thursday, Rainer walked jurors through tobacco advertisements, including an ad campaign for Kent cigarettes that he said falsely claimed the brand’s “micronite” filter rendered the cigarette safer than options.
“Is it believable that she heard about the reputation of the 'micronite' filter at the time this [campaign] was running?” Rainer asked. “It’s actually more likely that she absolutely heard about this campaign, which they had spent years to develop.”
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