Boston, MA— Jurors Wednesday handed down a $21 million verdict against Philip Morris for the role it found the tobacco giant played in a Massachusetts smoker’s death. Laramie v. Philip Morris, 17CV02240.
Wednesday’s award includes $11 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitives imposed against Philip Morris for Frederick Laramie’s 2016 lung cancer death.
Laramie allegedly began smoking at 13 after being offered free samples near a local convenience store. He continued smoking for more than four decades, ultimately dying at 56.
Laramie’s family claims Philip Morris caused Laramie’s death by selling cigarettes it knew were dangerous and addictive.
On Tuesday, the Laramie family’s attorney, Bernheim Dolinsky Kelley’s Walter Kelley suggested jurors should award $41.9 million in compensatory damages and more than $410 million in punitives in the case.
Wednesday’s verdict caps an 11-day trial that centered largely on whether Philip Morris knowingly sold an addictive cancer-causing cigarette when safer options were available. During Tuesday’s closings, Shook Hardy’s William Geraghty told jurors there was nothing to indicate low nicotine cigarettes, unlike the higher nicotine Marlboro brand Laramie smoked, would reduce addiction. And he added that low-nicotine alternatives were ultimately no safer. “If you smoke enough low-nicotine cigarettes, you’re going to have the same risk of cancer,” Geraghty said. “They have all the same carcinogens.”
But Kelley argued evidence showed Philip Morris engineered cigarettes to be as addictive as possible in an effort to keep consumers smoking, despite the health risks. And Kelley contended that, while an ultra-low nicotine cigarette may not have helped an addicted smoker, it would substantially reduce the likelihood someone would become addicted in the first place. “[A non-addicted person] would not overcompensate [for the lack of nicotine] and continue using the safer alternative design every single day,” Kelley said.
While Wednesday's verdict found Philip Morris liable on defective design claims and concluded the company's behavior warranted punitive damages, jurors cleared Philip Morris on claims the company negligently distributed cigarettes to Laramie when he was a minor.
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
Pamela Laramie is represented by Bernheim Dolinsky Kelley’s Walter Kelley and Paula Bliss.
Philip Morris is represented by Shook Hardy’s William Geraghty.
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