A law firm has filed a $100 million lawsuit against cigarette giant Philip Morris Inc. on behalf of a Baltimore County widow whose husband died of lung cancer in January. According to the complaint, the widows husband began smoking free cigarette samples in 1941, when he was 14, and later "moved on to smoking 'ten packs' which were designed to addict young smokers." Before he quit in 1976, he smoked two packs a day.
The lawsuit accuses Philip Morris and 10 other companies - including tobacco manufacturers and distributors, and Giant Food L.L.C., which sold the widow's husband many of his cigarettes - of wrongful death, conspiracy, two counts of fraud, failure to warn of the product's dangers, and loss of companionship of her husband. The lawsuit asks for punitive damages plus a total of $100 million in compensatory damages. Philip Morris did not return a phone call seeking comment yesterday afternoon.
According to Richard Daynard, a professor at Northeastern University law school and chairman of the Tobacco Control Resource Center in Boston, individual lawsuits such as these are starting to find success in courtrooms across the country. "Until 1996, there were maybe 1,500 (individual) cases filed, but none had produced any money for the plaintiffs," he said. "What happened since then is that all of these documents are now out, demonstrating the perfidy of this industry, so that's changed things."
Daynard's organization has tracked seven recent plaintiff victories in various states, some amounting to $100 million in damages. Still, Daynard said such cases are not easy to bring, because tobacco companies "do everything possible to raise the cost for the plaintiff," he said. "They employ a 'scorched earth' defense strategy. They never settle the cases." An important exception to that strategy was the national tobacco settlement in 1998, in which Maryland was promised more than $4 billion.