Massachusetts Ruling Could Lead To More Tobacco Suits
A Massachusetts court has ruled that cigarettes’ addictive qualities do not give tobacco companies protection from product liability claims.
This ruling comes after the state affirmed a $35 million award to Willie Evans, whose mother died at the age of 54 from lung cancer caused by smoking Newport cigarettes.
The result of the ruling is that all cigarettes in the state could be declared defective, according to Micah Berman, an assistant professor at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, which can lead to more lawsuits.
To prove that a product is defectively designed under Massachusetts law, plaintiffs must prove that a feasible and practical alternative design exists that would have reduced or prevented the plaintiff’s harm. Evans argued that Newport cigarettes were designed to deliver addictive levels of nicotine and tar, and that tobacco companies could have made cigarettes with non-addictive levels of those chemicals.
In 2006, a Florida court found that addictive levels of nicotine in a cigarette qualified as an alleged design defect, which came in the Engle case, where a class of smokers was decertified but allowed to use previous jury findings to bring individual lawsuits against the cigarette industry. Thousands of lawsuits have since been filed.
Freidin Brown, P.A. handles tobacco cases in the state of Florida. Last year, a jury found that the cancer of Phil Marotta, whose surviving family was represented by Freidin Brown, P.A., was caused by smoking, that he was addicted to cigarettes containing nicotine, that defective and dangerous cigarettes were the legal cause of death, and tobacco company R.J. Reynolds was 58 percent at fault. The jury awarded $2 million to each child for loss of parental companionship, pain and suffering.
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Source: Thomas Reuters, “Massachusetts ruling could invite more tobacco suits,” June 11, 2013.