Laura Grossman began smoking in 1972, when she was 15. The married mother of two would die of lung cancer in 1995, when she was 38.
Wednesday, a Broward jury awarded $37.5 million to her family after the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company was found partially responsible for the Coral Springs woman’s death.
“I’m sure they will appeal it,” said widower Jan Grossman from his home in Marco Island. “I definitely believe they will not pay.”
During the 20-day trial, tobacco company attorneys said Laura Grossman knew the risks, the Vantage cigarette she preferred had a warning label on the package, and she was responsible for her own demise, Jan Grossman said.
“I can’t believe that [tobacco company attorneys] felt that it was all her fault,” he said. “They denied any culpability.”
Family attorney Scott Schlesinger argued Laura Grossman was too young to assess the risks at 15, was targeted by the tobacco industry as an adolescent susceptible to nicotine addiction, and that she fought the cancer valiantly, living a full year beyond the six months doctors expected her to survive.
“What folks don’t know is the basis of the [tobacco] business is kids,” Schlesinger said. “It’s not fair to say, ‘You’ve been warned,’ to a 15-year-old because a 15-year-old can’t make an adult decision [about the risks of smoking].”
Jan Grossman and his children Jessica, 28, and Steven, 21, provided emotional testimony based on memories of their mother, Jan Grossman said.
“They had different memories that I was not aware of, like they remembered her being removed from the house in a body bag after she passed away,” he said.
Schlesinger said it was the most overwhelming testimony he had heard in nearly 30 years of practicing law.
“It was just terrible and it was so fresh and raw, and she’s been buried since November of ’95,” he said. “Dead and buried for almost 18 years and you would have thought it was yesterday with how fresh and raw the suffering was that was displayed to this jury.”
Among the evidence Schlesinger presented were two confidential RJR “Research Planning Memorandums.” One, from 1972, was called “The Nature of the Tobacco Business and the Crucial Role of Nicotine Therein.” The other, from 1973, offered “Some Thoughts About New Brands of Cigarettes for the Youth Market.” Both were written by RJR researcher and chemist Claude Teague.
Schlesinger offered these as proof the tobacco industry acknowledges that cigarettes are a vehicle for delivering habit-forming nicotine and that adolescents are a target market.
His law firm has been part of several tobacco lawsuits and he expects RJR to appeal with its “army of lawyers and its vast resources,” Schlesinger said. “Fewer people have [won a case against the tobacco industry] than have climbed Mount Everest,” he said.
A voicemail seeking comment from tobacco company attorney Peter Biersteker, of the Jones Day law firm in Washington D.C., was not returned as of Thursday evening.
The Broward jury awarded $15 million in compensatory damages for Laura Grossman’s husband and two children, and $22.5 million in punitive damages against R.J. Reynolds Company.
Jan Grossman thinks tobacco lawyers will simply appeal the award forever.
“I’m 63,” he said. “That’s why I hope they pay before I pass away.”