$5 Million Damage Award in Smokeless Tobacco Case

Posted on behalf of Stewart Bell, PLLC on Dec 15, 2010 in Wrongful Death

A North Carolina widow will receive $5 million from a tobacco company as compensation for the chewing tobacco-related death of their 42-year-old husband. Experts believe the settlement is the first settlement for wrongful death in smokeless tobacco litigation. The man had developed cancer of the tongue after chewing tobacco for almost 30 years.

Victims' families have filed lawsuits against smokeless tobacco companies in the past, with little success. More successful tobacco litigation has focused on cigarettes, an area where there is more damning evidence of harm to users. Still, the evidence against chewing or "spit" tobacco is mounting, and the plaintiff's attorneys saw this case as a bellwether for spit tobacco wrongful death claim s.

Others speculate that the company just wanted to settle. The Connecticut-based manufacturer was recently acquired by a Virginia company, and the new parent company wanted to clear up the litigation quickly. The settlement would be a more attractive alternative than a jury trial in terms of time, and there was a risk that a jury would order higher damages be paid the decedent's family.

Still, the case should be "a wakeup call" to personal injury attorney s that there are victims out there who deserve redress, said one expert. He points out that tobacco companies have vigorously defended cigarette suits (and prevailed in several recent cases), relying heavily on the warnings included on labels and advertisements. The argument could backfire for spit tobacco, though, because tobacco companies have been marketing it as a less harmful alternative to cigarettes. Even now tobacco companies are working against tough warning labels on smokeless tobacco products.

Like the victim in this case, more than half of Americans under 21 who chew tobacco developed the habit before age 13. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that between 12 and 14 million Americans use smokeless tobacco; a full third of those are under the age of 21. Health risks include gum damage, high blood pressure, and heart problems that increase risk of heart attack and stroke. Oh, and cancer, too.

Resource: MSNBC "Chewing Tobacco Maker to Pay $5 Million in First Wrongful Death Case" 12/blog/10

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