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Jury awards Foxborough woman’s family $17.5 million for dying of lung cancer from smoking cigarettes

Pamela Coyne smoked Winston cigarettes for 42 years, stopping about a year before lung cancer claimed her life in 2016 — and now RJ Reynolds has been ordered to pay her survivors $6.3 million in compensatory damages.
Pamela Coyne smoked Winston cigarettes for 42 years, stopping about a year before lung cancer claimed her life in 2016 — and now RJ Reynolds has been ordered to pay her survivors $6.3 million in compensatory damages.(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/File 2014)

Pamela Coyne smoked Winston cigarettes for 42 years, stopping about a year before lung cancer claimed her life in 2016 — and now RJ Reynolds has been ordered to pay her survivors a total of $17.5 million in damages.

Coyne’s husband, James, successfully persuaded a Middlesex Superior Court jury this week that RJ Reynolds should be held financially responsible for the Foxborough woman’s death by marketing a product harmful to consumers.

On Friday, the jury awarded punitive damages of $11.2 million, according to Mark Gottlieb, executive director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute, which filed the suit on behalf of the Coynes. The jury had earlier this week awarded $6.3 million in compensatory damages.

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The institute, located at Northeastern, is the successor to the Tobacco Products Liability Project whose founder, Richard Daynard, played a major role in litigation that led to the historic 1998 master settlement.

According to the lawsuit filed in 2016, Pamela Coyne was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2015 and died in 2016. According to court papers, she started smoking Virginia Slims cigarettes when she was 12 years old and kept smoking the Philip Morris product until she was around 15 years of age.

The Coynes also sued Philip Morris, but that company reached a confidential settlement before trial, Gottlieb said.

The online court docket shows that a verdict in favor of the Coynes was returned by the jury, but the dollar amount is not listed. Gottlieb provided the Globe with that information.

In court papers, Reynolds denied that cigarettes could be considered legally defective. The company also maintained that it was not negligent in the way it produced and marketed Winstons, and that it could not be found to be negligently responsible for the lung cancer that killed Coyne, according to the court papers.

Finally, the company wrote in court papers, Reynolds never forced Coyne to smoke.

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“Throughout her life, Mrs. Coyne had the ability to make her own decisions regarding smoke, including the decision to quit smoking, just as over 60 million Americans have done,” attorneys wrote for Reynolds. “Mrs. Coyne bears responsibility for her decisions to start and continue smoking cigarettes despite knowing the risks.”

In an e-mail, a Reynolds spokesperson wrote that the company would not be commenting on the Coyne verdict.


Travis Andersen of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.