- Associated Press - Friday, December 31, 2010

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut smoker who won $8 million against a tobacco company in May, the first such jury award in New England, has been awarded $4 million in punitive damages and stands to get millions more in interest.

Barbara Izzarelli, a Norwich resident who developed larynx cancer, won the jury award against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. after a two-week trial, but the Bridgeport panel left the amount of punitive damages up to the judge.

Judge Stefan Underhill on Thursday ordered punitive damages of $3.97 million, bringing Izzarelli’s total award to nearly $12 million. The punitive damages will cover attorney fees and other legal costs.

The company’s attorney and a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds, David Howard, didn’t immediately respond to telephone messages left and e-mails sent Friday by the Associated Press. Mr. Howard had said in May that the company was disappointed and would appeal.

Ms. Izzarelli’s attorney David Golub said he expects the judge to award $15.8 million worth of interest dating back more than a decade, because state law requires such interest payments in cases in which settlements are offered. That would bring the total award to almost $28 million.

Ms. Izzarelli’s case was the first smoker’s case to come to trial in Connecticut and the first jury verdict against a tobacco company in New England, Mr. Golub said. He said his case and a jury award in Boston two weeks ago involving another tobacco company show juries in New England will award damages to smokers.

Ms. Izzarelli, who is 49 and smoked Salem cigarettes for more than 25 years, underwent surgery at 36 that resulted in the removal of her larynx. She must breath through a hole in her throat and has no sense of smell, and can only eat soft foods, Mr. Golub said.

“It’s a great recovery for her,” Mr. Golub said Friday. “Barbara Izzarelli has terrible injuries that she’s going to live with for the rest of her life.”

The jury in Connecticut held that the Salem cigarettes made by R.J. Reynolds were unreasonably dangerous and defectively designed and that the company had acted with reckless disregard for the safety of consumers and should be required to pay punitive damages, Mr. Golub said.

Evidence in the trial established that Reynolds had undertaken a campaign in the early 1970s to market Salems to minors in order to establish a long-term customer base and had designed the cigarettes with enough nicotine above the threshold for addiction, Mr. Golub said.

The company denied targeting youths and noted that cigarettes have carried health warnings since the 1960s.

The jury found Ms. Izzarelli’s compensatory damages totaled $13.9 million, but ruled that both Reynolds and Ms. Izzarelli bore responsibility for her smoking injuries. The jury allocated responsibility 58 percent to Reynolds and 42 percent to Ms. Izzarelli, reducing her award to about $8 million.