March 15, 2011
Ex-smoker wins $1.4 million in asbestos-filter suit
A San Francisco jury has awarded $1.36 million to a terminally ill man who smoked filter-tipped Kent cigarettes in the 1950s that contained asbestos.
Lawyers for Don Lenney and his wife, Monica, said the verdict was a rare victory for plaintiffs who have sued over Kent’s use of asbestos in its Micronite filters from 1952 to 1956. The cigarette’s manufacturer, Lorillard Tobacco Co., says it has won 15 out of 20 trials nationwide and contends the filters released only trace amounts of asbestos that posed no danger.
Lenney, 73, a former Bay Area insurance agent, now lives in Placerville. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of cancer linked to asbestos, in November 2009 and had a lung removed in early 2010, his attorney said Thursday.
“He tries not to dwell on it too much and just wants to live as long as he can, and be there for his wife and children and grandchildren,” attorney Laurel Simes said.
Lenney started smoking other brands in 1953 at age 16 and soon switched to Kents, Simes said. She said he stopped smoking in 1965, shortly after the U.S. surgeon general warned of the dangers of cigarettes.
Medical groups’ concerns about tobacco in the early 1950s prompted companies to start selling filtered cigarettes. Kent’s ads promoted the Micronite filters as “the greatest health protection in cigarette history” and said they removed seven times as much tar and nicotine as other leading filters. The company removed asbestos from the filters in 1957.
During the seven-week trial in San Francisco Superior Court, lawyers for Lorillard and the filter’s manufacturer, Hollingsworth & Vose, argued that the filters were safe and that the evidence failed to show that Lenney had smoked Kents when they contained asbestos.
Simes said Lenney had testified that he used the brand during that period and was backed up by two former high school classmates.
The jury rejected a claim that the companies had been negligent but voted 9-3 to find that they had violated Lenney’s right to buy and use a safe product. The March 3 verdict apportioned 35 percent of the fault to Lorillard, 25 percent to Hollingsworth & Vose and the rest to other asbestos suppliers, a verdict that makes the two companies responsible for just over $1 million in damages, the Lenneys’ lawyers said.
Defense lawyer Randall Haimovici said the companies would appeal. The negligence verdict shows that jurors agreed “we didn’t do anything wrong by using asbestos in filters back in the 1950s,” he said.
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