Library Index » Health & Medicine » The Government and the Courts - Taxation, Government Legislationand Regulations, Suing The Tobacco Companies, The Tobacco Mastersettlement Agreement, Individual And Class-action Lawsuits

The Government and the Courts - Individual And Class-action Lawsuits

bill damages tobacco smoke

The tobacco industry faces hundreds of individual cases across the country, including cases filed by health insurers. The following are examples of some of these cases.

In March 1999 a state jury in Portland, Oregon, in Williams v. Philip Morris (No. 02-1553), ordered Philip Morris to pay $79.5 million to the family of a man who smoked Marlboro cigarettes for forty years prior to his death in 1997. The family of the Oregon janitor accused the company of concealing information about the dangers of smoking. In October 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the award should be reviewed by lower courts to ensure that it was not unconstitutionally excessive. In July 2004 the Oregon Court of Appeals reinstated the jury's award of $79.5 million.

In Henley v. Philip Morris, Inc. (No. 995172, San Francisco Superior Court, 1999), a San Francisco jury awarded $51 million in a case brought by a woman with inoperable lung cancer. The lawsuit contended that Philip Morris and other tobacco companies had acted in concert to suppress proof of the link between smoking and cancer. There was also testimony about how Marlboro, the brand favored by Henley, was marketed in a way that targeted teenage smokers. The award was reduced by appeals courts to $26.5 million and then to $9 million. Philip Morris took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, and on March 21, 2005, the High Court left standing a prior $10.5 million San Francisco Superior Court judgment in favor of Henley.

On June 6, 2001, in Boeken v. Philip Morris, Inc. (No. BC226593, Los Angeles County, California Superior Court, April 2, 2001), a jury awarded a fifty-six-year-old California man $3 billion dollars in punitive damages and $5.5 million in compensatory damages. (Compensatory damages are meant to compensate the party that wins the judgment for their losses. Punitive damages are meant to punish the party that loses the judgment.) Jurors found against the tobacco maker on six counts of fraud, negligence, and making a defective product. Richard Boeken began smoking at age thirteen and was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1999; he has since died. In October 2004 a

TABLE 8.6
Actual payments received by the states from the tobacco settlements, 1998-2006
SOURCE: Eric Lindblom, "Actual Payments Received by the States from the Tobacco Settlements (Millions of Dollars)," Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, May 4, 2005, http://tobaccofreekids.org/research/factsheets/pdf/0218.pdf (accessed May 4, 2005)

State 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004a 2005 2006 (est.)
Alabama $0.0 $0.0 $131.7 $104.7 $120.0 $109.9 $101.9 $101.9 $98.6
Alaska $0.0 $8.4 $19.6 $21.5 $24.8 $23.2 $21.5 $21.5 $20.8
Arizona $0.0 $0.0 $120.3 $90.0 $110.4 $101.6 $92.7 $92.9 $89.9
Arkansas $0.0 $0.0 $0.0 $124.0 $60.2 $56.3 $52.1 $52.2 $50.5
California $0.0 $315.2 $715.9 $772.5 $956.0 $879.8 $802.4 $804.6 $778.9
Colorado $0.0 $33.8 $78.6 $86.4 $99.6 $93.2 $86.2 $86.4 $83.6
Connecticut $0.0 $45.8 $104.1 $112.4 $139.0 $128.0 $116.7 $117.0 $113.3
Delaware $0.0 $9.8 $22.2 $23.9 $29.6 $27.3 $24.9 $24.9 $24.1
DC $0.0 $15.0 $34.8 $38.2 $44.1 $41.3 $38.2 $38.3 $37.0
Florida $562.5 $531.0 $640.9 $743.4 $765.8 $490.0 $363.9 $391.3b $394.8
Georgia $0.0 $60.6 $140.7 $154.6 $178.4 $166.9 $154.3 $154.7 $149.8
Hawaii $0.0 $14.9 $33.8 $36.4 $45.1 $41.5 $37.8 $37.9 $36.7
Idaho $0.0 $9.0 $20.8 $22.9 $26.4 $24.7 $22.8 $22.9 $22.2
Illinois $0.0 $114.9 $266.9 $293.2 $338.2 $316.6 $292.6 $293.4 $284.0
Indiana $0.0 $50.4 $117.0 $128.5 $148.2 $138.7 $128.2 $128.6 $124.5
Iowa $0.0 $21.5 $49.9 $54.8 $63.2 $59.2 $54.7 $54.8 $53.1
Kansas $0.0 $20.6 $47.8 $52.5 $60.6 $56.7 $52.4 $52.5 $50.9
Kentucky $0.0 $43.5 $98.8 $106.6 $131.9 $121.4 $110.7 $111.0 $107.5
Louisiana $0.0 $55.7 $129.3 $142.1 $163.9 $153.4 $141.8 $142.2 $137.6
Maine $0.0 $19.0 $44.1 $48.5 $55.9 $52.3 $48.4 $48.5 $46.9
Maryland $0.0 $55.8 $129.6 $142.5 $164.3 $153.8 $142.1 $142.5 $137.9
Massachusetts $0.0 $99.7 $226.5 $244.5 $302.5 $278.4 $253.9 $254.6 $246.5
Michigan $0.0 $107.5 $244.1 $263.4 $325.9 $300.0 $273.6 $274.3 $265.6
Minnesota $240.0 $322.8 $334.2 $352.7 $380.1 $265.4 $168.5 $184.8b $186.4
Mississippi $232.1 $109.8 $199.5 $231.1 $229.0 $169.6 $112.5 $121.0b $122.0
Missouri $0.0 $0.0 $0.0 $343.6 $167.4 $154.7 $143.0 $143.4 $138.8
Montana $0.0 $10.5 $24.4 $26.8 $30.9 $28.9 $26.7 $26.8 $25.9
Nebraska $0.0 $14.7 $34.1 $37.5 $43.2 $40.5 $37.4 $37.5 $36.3
Nevada $0.0 $15.1 $35.0 $38.4 $44.3 $41.5 $38.3 $38.4 $37.2
New Hampshire $0.0 $16.4 $38.2 $42.0 $48.4 $45.3 $41.9 $42.0 $40.6
New Jersey $0.0 $0.0 $318.6 $244.5 $281.0 $263.0 $243.1 $243.8 $236.0
New Mexico $0.0 $14.7 $34.2 $37.6 $43.3 $40.6 $37.5 $37.6 $36.4
New York $0.0 $315.1 $715.8 $772.4 $955.8 $879.7 $802.3 $804.4 $778.7
North Carolina $0.0 $57.6 $130.8 $141.2 $174.7 $160.8 $146.6 $147.0 $142.3
North Dakota $0.0 $9.0 $21.0 $23.1 $26.6 $24.9 $23.0 $23.1 $22.3
Ohio $0.0 $124.4 $288.9 $317.3 $366.1 $342.6 $316.7 $317.5 $307.4
Oklahoma $0.0 $25.6 $59.4 $65.3 $75.3 $70.5 $65.1 $65.3 $63.2
Oregon $0.0 $28.3 $64.4 $69.5 $86.0 $79.1 $72.1 $72.3 $70.0
Pennsylvania $0.0 $0.0 $464.6 $348.1 $430.4 $396.1 $361.3 $362.2 $350.7
Rhode Island $0.0 $17.7 $41.2 $45.3 $52.2 $48.9 $45.2 $45.3 $43.9
South Carolina $0.0 $29.0 $67.5 $74.1 $85.5 $80.0 $73.9 $73.4 $71.8
South Dakota $0.0 $8.6 $20.0 $22.0 $25.4 $23.7 $21.9 $22.0 $21.3
Tennessee $0.0 $0.0 $203.4 $155.9 $177.4 $166.0 $153.4 $153.9 $148.9
Texas $378.0 $1,018.9 $839.8 $974.2 $1,004.5 $719.0 $479.9 $515.9b $520.5
Utah $0.0 $11.0 $25.5 $28.0 $32.3 $30.3 $28.0 $28.0 $27.1
Vermont $0.0 $10.2 $23.1 $24.9 $30.8 $28.3 $25.8 $25.9 $25.1
Virginia $0.0 $50.5 $117.2 $128.8 $148.6 $139.1 $128.5 $128.9 $124.8
Washington $0.0 $50.7 $117.7 $129.3 $149.2 $139.7 $129.1 $129.4 $125.3
West Virginia $0.0 $21.9 $50.8 $55.8 $64.4 $60.3 $55.7 $55.9 $54.1
Wisconsin $0.0 $51.2 $116.2 $125.4 $155.2 $142.8 $130.3 $130.6 $126.4
Wyoming $0.0 $6.1 $13.9 $15.0 $18.6 $17.1 $15.6 $15.7 $15.2
Am. Samoa $0.0 $0.4 $0.9 $0.9 $1.1 $1.0 $1.0 $1.0 $0.9
Guam $0.0 $0.5 $1.2 $1.3 $1.6 $1.5 $1.4 $1.4 $1.3
No. Mariana $0.0 $0.2 $0.5 $0.5 $0.3 $0.7 $0.5 $0.5 $0.5
Puerto Rico $0.0 $27.7 $62.9 $67.9 $36.6 $95.8 $70.8 $70.7 $68.4
Virgin Islands $0.0 $0.4 $1.0 $1.1 $0.6 $1.5 $1.1 $1.1 $1.1
MSA total $0.0 $2.0 bill. $5.9 bill. $6.4 bill. $7.3 bill. $6.9 bill. $6.3 bill. $6.3 bill. $6.1 bill.
Ind. state total $1.4 bill. $2.0 bill. $2.0 bill. $2.3 bill. $2.4 bill. $1.6 bill. $1.1 bill. $1.2 bill.b $1.2 bill.
National total $1.4 bill. $4.0 bill. $7.9 bill. $8.7 bill. $9.7 bill. $8.5 bill. $7.4 bill. $7.5 bill.b $7.3 bill.
aThis column includes each MSA states share of the $70 billion in MSA payments made in August 2004 by Vibo Corp. (dba General Tobacco) after it joined the MSA. Most states included these payments as FY 2005 revenues.
bEstimated.

California appeals court ruled that the punitive damages award was excessive and that a new trial was warranted.

Nationwide, prior to the Boeken case, juries had awarded damages to individual smokers only six times. Three of those verdicts were overturned, Williams and Henley have been settled as described, and one verdict was returned in May 2001 with $1.72 million in compensatory damages.

Secondhand Smoke Lawsuits

Some secondhand smoke lawsuits have been brought against tobacco companies. Others have been brought against companies or individuals deemed responsible for not correcting a situation in which secondhand smoke had detrimental effects.

In Norma R. Broin, et al. v. Philip Morris, et al. (No. 91-49738, Dade County, Florida, Eleventh Judicial Circuit, 1997), the lead plaintiff (the party that brought the lawsuit), Norma Broin, was a nonsmoking former American Airlines flight attendant whose lung cancer was diagnosed in 1989. One of the lawyers, Stanley Rosenblatt, claimed flight attendants are "totally innocent victims. They are forced to involuntarily suck in the smoke of other people while the tobacco industry has lied for years about the dangers." The sixty thousand flight attendants represented by Broin claimed injury from breathing secondhand smoke before the 1990 ban on in-flight smoking. In October 1997 the lawsuit was settled mid-trial for $349 million. The money paid in damages will be used for research into diseases associated with tobacco smoke, and their early detection and treatment.

In June 2002 flight attendant Lynn French claimed she suffered from chronic sinusitis as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke while working on planes in the 1970s and 1980s. She was awarded $5.5 million in damages, although this award was later reduced. According to a Wall Street Journal article ("Miami Judge Pares Down Award in Secondhand Smoke Suit," September 13, 2002), nearly 1,850 flight attendants had secondhand smoke cases pending in Florida as of the summer of 2002.

In December 2002 the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Olympic Airlines was liable for a physician's death in flight due to secondhand smoke from nearby passengers (Husain v. Olympic Airways, No. 00-17509). Smoking was allowed on the Olympic flight between New York City and Greece, and Dr. Abid Hanson was seated one row in front of the smoking section. When Hanson asked if he could change seats due to his sensitivity to the smoke, the flight attendant refused. The doctor subsequently died from respiratory distress.

In 2005 a Manhattan Supreme Court judge ruled that an attorney could sue the owner and managers of the building in which he leased his office, as well as sue a neighbor in an adjacent office who smoked. Attorney Herbert Paul contended that many of the rooms of his office suite became unusable due to infiltrating smoke, and that these conditions forced him to move out of his office (Paul v. 370 Lex, LLC, 105840/02). The case was pending at this writing.

Class-Action Lawsuits on Behalf of Smokers

A class-action lawsuit is one brought forward by a group of parties with similar claims. Engle, et al. v. RJ Reynolds Tobacco, et al. (No. 94-08273, Dade County, Florida, Eleventh Judicial Circuit, 1998) was the first class-action lawsuit to go to trial brought on behalf of smokers. In July 1999, following nearly a year of proceedings, the jury gave a detailed verdict. It found that smoking caused many diseases, including cancer and lung and heart diseases, and that the tobacco industry had committed fraud, misrepresentation, conspiracy, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress—and therefore was liable for punitive damages.

The second phase of the trial (Phase II), to establish the punitive (punishment) damages as well as individual damages for the nine named plaintiffs, concluded with verdicts in 1999. The first stage of Phase II, the trial on compensatory damages for certain class representatives, ended with verdicts in favor of three of the named plaintiffs. The second stage of Phase II, the trial on the amount of punitive damages, concluded with verdicts totaling $145 billion. RJ Reynolds appealed this decision and, in May 2001, reached an agreement to pay Florida smokers $709 million regardless of the outcome of the appeal. In exchange, the defendants received a guarantee that the appeals process will be completed without their having to pay the punitive judgment damages during that process.

On May 21, 2003, a Florida Appeals Court over-turned the $145 billion verdict against tobacco firms in the Engle class-action lawsuit. The court found that the lawsuit could not be certified as class action because individuals had varying complaints. The punitive award was also precluded by the state's Master Settlement Agreement in 1998.

The ruling came on the heels of an Illinois court reducing a Philip Morris appeal to $800 million in cash and $6 billion deposited into an escrow account in the case of Price v. Philip Morris. The class-action lawsuit claimed Philip Morris deceived Illinois smokers of Marlboro Lights and Cambridge Lights by marketing these cigarettes as lower in tar and nicotine. Attorneys claimed that these "light cigarettes" would deliver just as much tar and nicotine as standard cigarettes.

The lawsuit is different from other class-action suits in that its members are not claiming that smoking made them sick, but rather that Philip Morris deceived them. Philip Morris attorney George Lombardi said that smokers do not associate the term "light" with less harmful. The term, he argued, applied to the flavor of the tobacco. Such an argument conflicts with a November 2001 report by the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute saying that light cigarettes are no better for smokers than regular brands. In fact, smokers would puff harder on the cigarettes, drawing more particulate matter, tars, and nicotine into their lungs and holding these substances there for longer periods of time than when smoking regular cigarettes. The report also states that smokers do indeed switch to light cigarettes out of the impression that such cigarettes are healthier.

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