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Jury awards $20M to smoker's widow

A New York jury on Friday ordered cigarette maker Brown & Williamson to pay $8 million in punitive damages for the smoking-related injuries of a deceased man, and ordered two tobacco trade groups to pay $6 million each.
/ Source: Reuters

A New York jury on Friday ordered cigarette maker Brown & Williamson to pay $8 million in punitive damages for the smoking-related injuries of a deceased man, and ordered two tobacco trade groups to pay $6 million each.

In December, a jury found Brown & Williamson was 50 percent responsible for those injuries, and ordered the company to pay $175,000. At that time, the jury awarded plaintiff Gladys Frankson, widow of Harry Frankson, $350,000, but that amount was to be reduced by the 50 percent of fault allocated to her.

Harry Frankson had smoked Lucky Strike cigarettes, which are now made by Brown & Williamson but were originally made by American Tobacco Co.

The jury, in a 5-1 decision, said Brown & Williamson should pay $6 million based on its own fault and $2 million for the time when American Tobacco made the brand. The jury also said that the Council for Tobacco Research and the Tobacco Institute should each pay $6 million in punitive damages.

"I thought it would be more, but I'm fine with it," Frankson said of the amount of the punitive award. "I thought it would be $30 to $40 million, but dollars is not what I was here for. The win of the case is really what meant a lot to me."

Frankson's lawyer, Gary Douglas, called the punitive award "a just and fair result."

"It is enough to get the industry's attention," he said.

Harry Frankson, who was 57 when he died, had smoked Lucky Strike cigarettes from the age of 14.

Brown & Williamson was not immediately available for comment. In the past, the Louisville, Kentucky-based company has said it plans to appeal the original verdict.

Brown & Williamson is the U.S. cigarette unit of London-based British American Tobacco Plc. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. in October announced plans to buy Brown & Williamson from British American Tobacco. That deal has not yet been completed.

Brown & Williamson, earlier this week, argued that it should be made to pay less than $160,000 in punitive damages in the case. The plaintiff's lawyer told the jury he thought an acceptable award was $22 million to $137 million.