A major case that started a decade ago between tobacco company Philip Morris and a woman from Marshall, Alaska, ended yesterday afternoon with zero dollars being awarded to Delores Hunter.
Hunter’s husband, Benjamin Francis, smoked Marlboro cigarettes, and Mrs. Hunter sued after his death 12 years ago, saying the corporation misled smokers.
The closing arguments on Tuesday and Wednesday focused on the value of Francis’ life, according to KYUK radio, and how much his widow would be owed, should damages be awarded: He lost his livelihood, the fish he would have brought home as a subsistence fisherman, he wasn’t bringing home a Permanent Fund dividend, and the other contributions he would have made to his family if he had not died, such as family chores. There were also mental distress damages being argued.
In Hunter v. Philip Morris USA, Inc., Dolores Hunter filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Philip Morris. The essence of the case was that the cigarette manufacturer was committing fraud against tobacco users. But the plaintiff’s arguments went up in smoke with the jury within hours of the closing arguments.
In 2016, the case went before a jury in Bethel, and although jurors agreed that Phillip Morris had misrepresented the risks of smoking, they split 8-4 on whether Francis had relied on that information before smoking Marlboro Light cigarettes. It was a hung jury.
The case has national implications. Bethel has been known as a target community to try such cases because juries there historically have awarded large damages.