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Widower Awarded Compensation in First Secondhand Smoke Fatality Case


January 1996

On December 8, the Department of Labor ruled that the widower of a former Veterans Adminstration hospital nurse should receive compensation due to her secondhand smoke-related cancer death (Associated Press, "Money Awarded in Secondhand Smoke Death Case," Washington Post, December 16, 1995, p. A24).

The Labor Department ordered the Department of Veterans Affairs to pay Philip E. Wiley of Charlotte, NC $21,500 every year (half of his wife Mildred's yearly salary) until his death. Although there have been damage awards in the past for respiratory problems associated with secondhand smoke, this is the first case involving death related to secondhand smoke. Mildred died of lung cancer in 1991, but neither she nor her husband were smokers. The Labor Department found that secondhand smoke was at least partly to blame for her illness.

According to Mr. Wiley's lawyer, Joe Young, some of Mildred Wiley's coworkers testified that the patients at the VA hospital in Marion, Indiana were allowed to smoke in the facility and that "sometimes you could not see the heads of the patients due to the blue haze of the smoke in the rooms."