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Court upholds $35M wrongful death ruling against Lorillard

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued today its decision in Evans v. Lorillard, upholding $35M in compensatory damages against Lorillard, the makers of mentholated Newport cigarettes. However, in a mixed decision it sent other key portions of the case back to the trial court for further proceedings and reversed on several other issues. Marie Evans, an African American and life-long Newport smoker died in 2002 from cancer caused by her smoking. In one of the most notable aspects of the decision, the Court found that Newport cigarettes are "defective" products. Cigarette companies have long argued that cigarettes aren't "defective" under the law because cigarettes are inherently dangerous. But this Court determined that the real question is whether the risk of harm could have been reduced by a "reasonable alternative design". Of particular note, the Court concluded that to determine whether there was such a reasonable alternative, the proper point of reference was not an addicted smoker but rather "a rational, informed consumer whose freedom of choice is not substantially impaired by addiction."