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A federal jury in Connecticut just awarded a woman $8 million due to damages she suffered as a 20+ year smoker. A U.S. District judge could include punitive damages that will bring her total to almost $25 million. R.J. Reynolds, the maker of Salem cigarettes, says it will appeal the verdict. Stating the company has “several grounds for appeal”, one spokesman says the wheels are already in motion.

This is a significant case for a few reasons. It’s the first in the U.S. brought about by an individual smoker for damages due to cancer and other diseases and that was allowed to make it in front of a federal judge. Lawyers around the country will be monitoring this case as it continues to unfold as it could potentially become a groundbreaking decision.

Barbara Izzarelli began smoking as a teenager and became a heavy smoker for more than twenty years. Her case was allowed to move forward partly due to recently found documents that proved cigarette makers targeted teens and minors in their marketing efforts. Another significant aspect of this case is that one of those documents that originated from the defendant stated it (the cigarette maker) would “remove that ingredient” if it was “…proven a specific ingredient in cigarettes caused cancer…”. The documents were dated in the mid 1950s and clearly, no efforts were ever made to eliminate cancer causing elements. founder A. Harrison Barnes, says one reason we don’t see more of these cases is due to the many years it can sometimes take to reach a settlement. In this particular case, it weaved through the court system for more than a decade. And it’s still not over, especially with the appeals that will follow after the judge decides on punitive damages.

Law firms are quick to advise their clients of the potential timeframe involved and that it is never a fast process. This is one reason new attorneys are hesitant to enter into this particular legal sector immediately after passing the bar, says A. Harrison Barnes. Most young attorneys want to jump into their careers with those cases they can quickly build their reputation on and not so much those that might take years to conclude. What these recent grads can do is to accept positions with those firms that traditionally have handled these cases. They will be able to watch and learn from a unique perspective while also moving forward with making a name for themselves in the process, says the founder.

For now, the plaintiff in the case suffers from larynx cancer and can no longer breathe through her mouth or nose and must use a tube that’s been inserted in her throat. Shortly after her diagnosis, she underwent laryngectomy. After that procedure, she then received several radiation and chemotherapy treatment rounds.

To be sure, the nature of this case almost ensures it will become a part of every law professor‘s teachings for many years to come.

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