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Massachusetts wrongful death verdict of $35M upheld

In 2002, a Massachusetts woman in failing health gave a video deposition for use in her lawsuit against the Lorillard Tobacco Co. She was seeking monetary damages from the company for negligence in causing or contributing to her addiction to tobacco. She died before the trial commenced, and her surviving son continued the litigation as a wrongful death claim. At trial, jurors viewed portions of the deceased woman's video testimony. The jury subsequently returned a verdict in excess of $150 million.

The jury verdict was later reduced by the trial court to $116 million. Of that amount, $35 million was attributed to compensatory damages and the remainder to punitive damages. The defendant tobacco company appealed, and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently rendered a decision that had some good news and bad news for both parties. The Court affirmed the compensatory damages portion of the verdict, but vacated the award for punitive damages and sent that issue back to the lower court for a new trial.

The wrongful death claim had its roots in claims by the deceased victim that she was repeatedly given free Newport cigarettes from the tobacco company on a Boston area playground when she was just 13 years old. The tobacco company denied that allegations. Nevertheless, the jury apparently credited the woman's video testimony in deciding the merits of the case.

A wrongful death lawsuit is appropriate in Massachusetts whenever an individual loses their life due to the negligent conduct of another party that is deemed to have caused or contribute to the fatality. These types of civil lawsuits are not restricted to motor vehicle accidents. Rather, any negligent or intentional act that causes or contributes to a death may properly form the basis for a demand for reimbursement of monetary damages sustained as a result of the wrongdoing.

Source: cspnet.com, "Massachusetts Court Issues Mixed Decision," June 17, 2013

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