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Excerpts from: Suit seeks $100 million from tobacco company Angelos'
firm files on behalf of smoker's widow in Balto. Co.
By Sarah Koenig sunspot.net
Peter G. Angelos' law firm has filed a $100 million lawsuit against
cigarette giant Philip Morris Inc. on behalf of a Baltimore County widow
whose husband died of lung cancer in January.
The lawsuit comes a little more than a year after Maryland's highest court
ruled that the Angelos firm could not pursue a class action lawsuit against
the tobacco industry on behalf of smokers and their survivors. The court
said sick smokers would have to sue individually.
However, an attorney working on the case indicated in a statement
yesterday that the new lawsuit was not necessarily the first of many such
"The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a family member of one of the
attorneys here in our firm. We are not in the process of filing any other
lawsuits at this time," said Theodore M. Flerlage.
The firm declined further comment.
Angelos' client is Nona K. Christensen of Towson, whose husband,
Russell E. Christensen, was found to have lung cancer exactly three years
to the day before the lawsuit was filed in Baltimore Circuit Court on Aug.
13. Christensen had a law degree and was assistant chief clerk for Judge
Robert C. Sweeney, former chief judge of the District Court system.
According to the complaint, Christensen began smoking free cigarette
samples in 1941, when he was 14, and later "moved on to smoking 'ten
packs' which were designed to addict young smokers." Before he quit in
1976, he smoked two packs a day.
The lawsuit accuses Philip Morris and 10 other companies - including
tobacco manufacturers and distributors, and Giant Food L.L.C., which
sold Christensen many of his cigarettes - of wrongful death, conspiracy,
two counts of fraud, failure to warn of the product's dangers, and of
causing Nora Christensen to lose the companionship of her husband. The
lawsuit asks for punitive damages plus a total of $100 million in
In 1996, Angelos filed a class action lawsuit seeking damages for
hundreds of thousands of Maryland smokers and other tobacco users
who were addicted to nicotine or had tobacco-related diseases such as
lung cancer and heart disease.
A Baltimore circuit judge certified the class, allowing the case to proceed,
but the Court of Appeals overturned the decision in May of last year.
Angelos' firm said it would bring the cases individually instead. About
3,000 ill smokers had contacted the firm and said they wanted to sue,
John C. M. Angelos, Angelos' nephew and a member of the firm, said at
But according to Richard Daynard, a professor at Northeastern University
law school and chairman of the Tobacco Control Resource Center in
Boston, individual lawsuits such as Christensen's are starting to find
success in courtrooms across the country.
"Until 1996, there were maybe 1,500 [individual] cases filed, but none
had produced any money for the plaintiffs," he said. "What happened
since then is that all of these documents are now out, demonstrating the
perfidy of this industry, so that's changed things."
Daynard's organization has tracked seven recent plaintiff victories in
various states, some amounting to $100 million in damages.
Still, Daynard said such cases are not easy to bring, because tobacco
companies "do everything possible to raise the cost for the plaintiff," he
said. "They employ a 'scorched earth' defense strategy. They never settle
An important exception to that strategy was the national tobacco
settlement in 1998, in which Maryland was promised more than $4 billion.
Angelos represented the state in that lawsuit and is embroiled in a legal
fight with state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. over his fee.
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