Altria Group, of Richmond, Virginia, owner of Copenhagen & Skoal brands, recently settled a wrongful death suit for $5 million.
A North Carolina widow with sons, aged 11 and 14, sued on behalf of her husband who died of cancer of the tongue.
"It's the first time a plaintiff has won a wrongful death chewing tobacco verdict or settlement in the history of the industry" said one of the plaintiff's attorneys, Antonio Ponvert III, of Bridgeport, CT. In an industry with a "no settlement" rule, an Altria Group spokesman said that it was honoring an agreement made by US Smokeless Tobacco with plaintiff, declaring "We have no current intention to settle cases like this in the future". USST merged with Altria in 2009, and has since gone out of business.
Besides the merger with Altria, there were several factors that made this case unusual.
One was that the decedent had used smokeless tobacco since he was 13 years old, so the claim of "personal responsibility" would not be available to the defense.
Also, in a prior defense verdict smokeless tobacco case, where the plaintiff had used "snuff" for five years, expert witnesses for the defense testified that tumors caused by chewing tobacco took 20 years to develop. Bobby Hill, the decedent in this case, had used for 20 years. Plaintiff attorneys would use the earlier testimony from defense experts against the defense of this case.
The settlement money will provide security for Mr. Hill's family in the future. Continuing the litigation may not have resulted in better results for them.
The article in the Connecticut Law Tribune also explores some aspects of tobacco industry strategy to entice people, especially youth, into use of their products.