A trial is scheduled to begin today in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport in a wrongful death lawsuit brought against cigarette manufacturer Philip Morris by the family of a Connecticut woman who died from lung cancer after decades of smoking the company’s products.
The lawsuit alleges that 42-year-old Vernon resident Jeanette Bifolck died in 2000 as a result of having smoked the company’s Marlboro and Marlboro Lights cigarettes since the early 1970s. Bifolck’s husband, Vincent Bifolck, filed the lawsuit in 2006, citing the Connecticut Product Liability Act (CPLA) and claiming the Philip Morris cigarettes were “unreasonably” dangerous to smokers.
Vincent Bifolck initially brought a lawsuit in Connecticut Supreme Court that sought to certify two questions: whether a plaintiff raising a negligence-based CPLA claim is required to identify a defect that results in a product being “unreasonably dangerous,”
and, if the answer was the affirmative, whether this would preclude a CPLA claim against a cigarette manufacturer for negligent design of a cigarette that does not involve product adulteration or contamination.
In December 2016, the court certified the first question but refused to certify the second question.
The Bifolck case was one of two Connecticut Supreme Court decisions last year that considered the CPLA in the design-defect context related to cigarettes. In the other, Izzarelli v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the court ruled that a “modified consumer expectation test” should be viewed as the primary test in a strict liability action based on defective design.
Philip Morris has contended that it cannot be held liable under the CPLA, adding that Jeanette Bifolck decision to smoke was a voluntary choice.