Beverly Schlenther began smoking cigarettes in 1957, at age 14 and became addicted to nicotine, smoking one-and-a-half to two packs per day for more than 40 years. In her early 50s, Schlenther was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She died of the disease in 2010 at age 67.
Schlenther’s husband sued R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. which manufactured the brands Schlenther smoked. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant’s conduct- including its negligence, manufacture of an unreasonably dangerous product, and conspiracy to conceal the risks of smoking- had caused his wife’s continued smoking, disease and death.
The US jury found that Schlenther was addicted to nicotine and that her addiction was a legal cause of her COPD and death. They found for the plaintiff on the negligence, strict liability and conspiracy claims and allocated fault at 50 per cent to the defendant and 50 per cent to Schlenther. The jury awarded $5 million in compensatory damages and concluded that punitive damages were warranted.