Former Norwich resident awarded additional $44 million in tobacco lawsuit

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U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill has added $44 million in damages and interest to the nearly $8 million a jury awarded to former Norwich resident Barbara Izzarelli in her lawsuit against the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco company.

The Bridgeport judge awarded $8 million in punitive damages, citing the tobacco company's actions as "reprehensible," and awarded $36.4 million in interest. With the jury's original compensatory damages award of $7.98 million, the total judgment is $52.4 million. The tobacco company appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to take the case.

Izzarelli, who is now 58 and living in Holly Hill, Fla., developed larynx cancer after smoking Salem cigarettes for more than 20 years, beginning around age 12 or 13. She was forced to undergo surgery at age 36 that resulted in the removal of her larynx and requires her to breathe through a hole in her throat. She cannot breathe through her nose or mouth, has no sense of smell and can only eat soft foods. 

Evidence at the 2010 trial in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport established that Reynolds had undertaken a campaign in the 1970s to market Salem cigarettes to minors in order to establish a long-term customer base.  Evidence also established that Reynolds had designed Salem cigarettes with a set level of nicotine that would provide a daily dose of nicotine above the threshold for nicotine addiction.

A jury determined that the tobacco company was 58 percent responsible for her injuries and that Izzarelli was 42 percent responsible for her injuries.

According to her attorney, the case was the first smoker's case to come to trial in Connecticut and was the first jury verdict ever returned against a tobacco company in New England history. Since the verdict in Ms. Izzarelli's case, two juries in Massachusetts have also returned multi-million dollar verdicts against cigarette companies.

"Barbara Izzarelli has fought long and hard against R.J. Reynolds, which targeted her with a product that was specifically designed to addict her," said David S. Golub of Silver Golub & Teitell LLP, who represented Izzarelli. "This ruling will not bring back her health, but it is an important step in holding R.J. Reynolds accountable for the harm it intentionally causes smokers like Ms. Izzarelli."

Golub was assisted on the case by Silver Golub & Teitell partners Jonathan M. Levine and Marilyn J. Ramos.

k.florin@theday.com

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