BOSTON – The family of a late Boston woman who said she got free cigarette samples as a child can keep $35 million in compensatory damages, but Massachusetts’ highest court on Tuesday threw out an $81 million punitive damages award and ordered a new trial on that part of the case.
The Supreme Judicial Court issued the mixed decision in a wrongful death suit brought against Greensboro, N.C.-based Lorillard Tobacco Co. by the son of Marie Evans, who died of lung cancer in 2002 at age 54.
At trial, an attorney for Lorillard said the tobacco company gave out samples to adults, not to children. But before her death, Evans said in a videotaped deposition that she became a regular smoker at about age 13 after repeatedly getting free Newport cigarette samples at a playground near her home in the city’s Roxbury section.
Evans smoked about 1 1/2 packs of cigarettes a day as an adult and tried to quit more than 50 times, including after a heart attack. She died before the trial started, but jurors saw parts of the video she recorded shortly before her death.
The Supreme Judicial Court justices found that jurors didn’t get proper instructions on a wrongful death theory based on negligent design and marketing. They also vacated the finding that Marie Evans’ death was caused by Lorillard’s negligence.
Lorillard spokesman Gregg Perry said the company was “gratified” by the ruling for a new trial on punitive damages but disagrees with the decision on compensatory damages and was “considering its options for further review.”
A spokeswoman for plaintiff’s attorney Michael Weisman said they were pleased by a compensatory damage award they called “substantial” and also were contemplating their next steps.
A jury originally awarded a total of $152 million in damages, but a judge reduced the amount to $116 million before the case went to the Supreme Judicial Court.