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San Francisco Jury Holds Lorillard Tobacco Liable in an Asbestos-Related Mesothelioma Case

After a seven week trial against Lorillard Tobacco Company and Hollingsworth & Vose Co., a San Francisco Superior Court jury awarded nearly $1.4 million to a 73 year-old man and his wife for his mesothelioma caused by his exposure to asbestos when he smoked Kent Cigarettes with its patented Micronite filter between 1953 and 1956. The Plaintiffs in the case were Donat Lenney and his wife Monica Lenney, of Placerville, California. The Defendants in the case were Lorillard Tobacco Co. and Hollingworth & Vose Company.

This case was tried for the Lenneys by William Levin, Laurel Simes, and Timothy Pearce now of Levin Simes, LLP.

Lorillard was represented by a group of attorneys, including David Thorne of Shook Hardy & Bacon, and Ricardo Cedillo of Davis Cedillo & Mendoza, Inc. Hollingsworth & Vose was represented by Randall Haimovici, also of Shook Hardy & Bacon and Andrew McElaney of Nutter McClennen & Fish.
The case was tried in San Francisco Superior Court in front of the honorable John K. Stewart.

Asbestos In Consumer Products

Donat Lenney testified at trial that he began smoking Kent Cigarettes with the Micronite filter during his junior year in high school at St. Vincent’s High in Petaluma, CA. Like many others, Mr. Lenney thought that the new “Micronite” filter would be a safer alternative to regular unfiltered cigarettes.

By the time Donat met Monica in their freshman year together at University of San Francisco, Mr. Lenney had become a regular Kent Smoker, smoking up to one pack a day.

Evidence at trial was put on to show that Lorillardt Tobacco Co., and Hollingsworth & Vose, the manufacturer of the filter media, never informed the public that the media in its cigarette filter contained crocidolite asbestos fibers between March of 1952 and May of 1956. The experts in this case agreed that crocidolite asbestos fiber, the type used in the Micronite filter media, is the most carcinogenic type of asbestos fiber.

Defendants contended that Mr. Lenney’s asbestos-related mesothelioma was not caused by his smoking of the Kent cigarette with the Micronite filter, as they contended that the asbestos fibers in the filter were nor respirable by consumers when its cigarettes were smoked.

Verdict

On March 3, 2011, the jury returned its verdict finding Defendants liable on a theory of products liability. The Jury held Lorillard Tobacco Co. and Hollingsworth & Vose Company a combined 60% responsible in causing Plaintiff’s mesothelioma. In doing so, the jury found that the asbestos-containing filter media in the original Kent Micronite cigarettes, manufactured from 1952-56, was defectively designed, releasing microscopic asbestos fibers into the lungs of Mr. Lenney. The jury also found that the fibers released into Mr. Lenney’s lungs contributed to the development of his terminal mesothelioma, an asbestos-caused lung disease.

The defense attorneys in this case had been presenting its defenses in other Kent filter cases involving mesothelioma for a number of years. While Lorillard and Hollingsworth & Vose have prevailed in many of these cases, the jury did not accept their defenses in this trial, and this was one of only a handful of plaintiff verdicts against Lorillard and Hollingsworth & Vose involving an asbestos Kent filter case in the past 20 years.