Lowell, MA— Jurors Wednesday cleared the nation’s two largest cigarette makers of responsibility for a Massachusetts man’s throat cancer death after decades of smoking. Babaletos v. R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris, 1881CV03523.
The Middlesex County Superior Court jury deliberated across three days before concluding cigarettes made by R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris, which Thomas Babaletos smoked for much of his life, were not defectively designed.
Babaletos, 59, died of laryngeal cancer in 2019 after more than 40 years of smoking. His family contends Philip Morris and Reynolds designed their cigarettes to be addictive and worked to conceal evidence that they caused cancer.
The 12-day trial ultimately turned on the design of the companies’ cigarettes. During Monday’s closings, the Babaletos family’s attorney, Dolan Dobrinsky & Rosenblum’s Randy Rosenblum, said evidence showed the companies could have made safer cigarettes, including non-inhalable or low-nicotine alternatives.
“The cigarette is the only product in human history that, if you use it exactly as the manufacturer intends, 50% of their customers will die,” Rosenblum said.
Rosenblum requested about $60.1 million in damages, including $31 million in punitives, during Monday's closings.
But the defense argued there were no reasonable, safer cigarette designs. During Monday’s closings, Jones Day’s John Walker, representing R.J. Reynolds, told jurors a non-inhalable cigarette would effectively turn it into a cigar, which could still cause laryngeal cancer.
“Think about that for a minute: to the tune of $60 million, you’re being asked to conclude that a cigar-like tobacco product would be safer than cigarettes when the warning [on cigars] and the public health community both tell you expressly that they are not safer.”
And Shook Hardy Bacon’s William Geraghty, representing Philip Morris, told jurors the company explored a variety of alternatives to traditional cigarettes, but none were accepted by consumers or endorsed as safer by public health experts. “Philip Morris invested billions of dollars over the years trying to make less hazardous cigarettes,” Geraghty said. “But they were unable to do so.”
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