Earlier this month (June 20) the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out an appeal from Illinois smokers who sought reinstatement of a $10.1 billion class-action judgment in a long-running lawsuit against Philip Morris.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Illinois smokers, was one of the nation’s first to accuse a tobacco company of consumer fraud. Known as Price v. Phillip Morris, the lawsuit claimed that Philip Morris deceptively marketed “light” and “low-tar” Marlboro cigarettes as a healthier alternative. The federal government now bars cigarette makers from labeling their products with such terms.
A Healthier Alternative?
The justices did not comment in leaving in place an Illinois Supreme Court ruling in favor of the cigarette maker. The smokers objected to the participation of state Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, who they said benefited from tobacco money in his retention election.
“Today’s action by the U.S. Supreme Court effectively ends this case once and for all,” Murray Garnick, an attorney and spokesman for Philip Morris’ parent company, Altria Group Inc., said in a statement.
While this decision favored a big tobacco company, it doesn’t negate the dozens of major lawsuits that have been lost by the cigarette makers. One of the most notable recent cases concluded early last year when the three major U.S. tobacco companies including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Lorillard Inc., and Altria Group’s Philip Morris USA agreed to pay $100 million to settle hundreds of federal lawsuits over smoking. This agreement covered more than 400 lawsuits filed in federal court in Florida by smokers or their families.
It is the first major agreement reached by the three companies to resolve a chunk of so-called Engle cases, named after a former class action brought by Florida residents over injuries or deaths they said were caused by tobacco-related medical conditions.
In mid-2014, Cynthia Robinson, a Florida widow, won a $23.6 billion lawsuit against tobacco company R.J. Reynolds, one of the largest recent judgments against the tobacco industry.
Robinson’s husband Michael Johnson died in 1996 at age of 36 from lung cancer, and in her lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds, she and her attorneys argued that the company was aware that cigarettes were addictive and caused lung cancer, but was negligent in telling smokers like Johnson about those risks.
Considering the ever-mounting evidence that cigarette smoking is even more harmful than originally thought, and the suspicion that tobacco companies have known about it much longer than they have admitted, we certainly haven’t seen the last of these cases against big tobacco.
The lawyers at Theodoros & Rooth take product liability cases very seriously. If you believe that you or a loved one has been seriously harmed from a dangerous product, we want to hear about it. We will listen to the details of your situation and if we believe you have a case, we will fight for your rights. There is no charge for the initial consultation. There are no attorney fees unless we win the case.
*Material from this blog was compiled from various articles by AP, Reuters, NBC News and Time Magazine.