Madelyn Chaber is the San Francisco bay area attorney who sued Philip Morris on behalf of plaintiff Patricia Ann Henley, who developed lung cancer after 35 years of smoking the company's flagship brand, Marlboro. In 1999, Chaber won a $51 million award against PM in San Francisco Superior Court, the nation's first multi million-dollar verdict against Big Tobacco.
Chaber was born in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in Hicksville, N.Y. She is the youngest of three children. Her father was an electrical engineer and her mother was an art teacher.
She earned an undergraduate degree in elementary education from State University of New York at Stonybrook, and her first job was teaching at a state institution for mentally retarded children. She enrolled in graduate school, but her mother had to have open-heart surgery, so she delayed those plans to help her recuperate. Her mother died during the surgery. Chaber ws 23 years old at the time.
Chaber was teaching at a school in South Bronx when she decided to take the law school admission tests on a lark, inspired by her then-boyfriend, who was a lawyer.
She did so well she quit her teaching job and moved to California, where she attended law school at the University of California Los Angeles. She earned her degree there in 1979 and after graduating joined a small personal injury law firm.
She moved to the Bay area where she started specializing in asbestos litigation. It was there the teamed up with paralegal Ray Goldstein, and accumulated a remarkable winning streak in legal cases that stretched over 11 years.
She took the case of Milton Joshua Horowitz, a psychologist who suffered from mesothelioma, the hallmark cancer of asbestos exposure. She discovered Horowitz had smoked cigarettes with the Kent Micronite filter, which was made of asbestos. A jury awarded Horowitz $2 million in damages, a judgment that was considered a breakthrough in tobacco litigation at the time.
- Chronicle Profile: Madelyn Chaber: Godmother of tobacco suits. Bay lawyer won first multimillion-dollar verdict for a smoker Chiang, Harriet. San Francisco Chronicle; Wednesday, November 20, 2002
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