Update 10/12/18: A Massachusetts state court jury Friday afternoon awarded the family of a former brake worker $43.1 million after finding R.J. Reynolds liable for his lung cancer death, but jurors cleared Philip Morris and an auto parts company of responsibility.
The verdict, reached after four days of deliberations, includes $13.1 million in compensatory damages for the 2015 death of Lous Summerlin and $30 million in punitives imposed against Reynolds.
Boston—Jurors entered their fourth day of deliberations Friday at trial over claims the nation’s two biggest cigarette makers and an auto parts company are responsible for a Massachusetts man’s fatal cancer. Summerlin v. Philip Morris, et al., 1581CV05255.
Louis Summerlin, 73, a former brake worker and decades-long smoker, died from lung cancer in 2015. His family contends that a combination of smoking and exposure to asbestos in brake dust caused his death.
During closing arguments last Friday, the Summerlin family’s attorney, Levy Konigsberg’s Jerome Block, requested more than $22 million in compensatory damages, plus punitives, against Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, and Hampden Automotive Sales Corporation.
The month-long trial focused on the role cigarette manufacturing and marketing, as well as Hampden’s failure to warn about the dangers of asbestos, played in Summerlin’s death.
During Friday’s closings, Block described Summerlin, who prefered Philip Morris and RJR’s menthol brands, as a heavily addicted smoker who fell prey to a tobacco industry that hid the dangers of smoking while using additives such as menthol to hook their customers. “[M]enthol cigarettes were purposely designed to addict. They did things to make those cigarettes as addictive as they could,” Block said. “Mr. Summerlin’s addiction to menthol cigarettes… was established for years, and years, and years, before there [were] any any warnings on the pack.”
And Block argued Hampden, whose asbestos-containing brakes Summerlin allegedly worked on for years, should have known, and warned of. the dangers the material would cause when workers such as Summerlin ground the brakes down in the normal course of their work.“No one ever said that grinding asbestos brake lining was anything but dangerous,” Block said.
But Hampden’s attorney, Smith & Duggan’s David Governo, pointed to evidence that showed scientific research had not yet concluded brake workers faced any risks from asbestos-containing brakes when Summerlin was working with the products. “No one had any reason to test or warn about the asbestos in this product,” Governo said.
For their part, the tobacco defendants contended Summerlin smoked by choice, not from addiction, and that he bore responsibility for his decisions. During Friday’s closings, Jones Day’s Mark Belasic, representing R.J. Reynolds, reminded jurors of Summerlin’s deposition testimony, which he said showed Summerlin smoked out of enjoyment, and that he disregarded tobacco warnings for years. “[Plaintiffs’] claim is that he didn’t know anything, that he didn’t get a proper warning, and that if he had gotten a warning, he wouldn’t have gotten lung cancer,” Belasic said. “And yet, the smoker in this case said over, and over, and over again, he didn’t care about warnings. He wouldn’t even look at them.”
Shook Hardy’s William Geraghty, representing Philip Morris, agreed, and added there was no “safer” cigarette, as Summerlin’s legal team contended, that Philip Morris could have sold to reduce Summerlin’s cancer risk. “Plaintiff is going to ask you today, 2018, [to do] what no public health agency has ever done,” Geraghty said. “To conclude that an untested, hypothetical cigarette is safer than the cigarettes Mr. Summerlin chose to smoke.”
CVN will update this article as events warrant.
Email Arlin Crisco at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Louis Summerlin is represented by Levy Konigsberg’s Jerome Block and Shepard Law’s Michael Shepard.
Philip Morris is represented by Shook Hardy’s William Geraghty.
R.J. Reynolds is represented by Jones Day’s Mark Belasic.
Hampden Automotive is represented by Smith & Duggan’s David Governo.
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