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Posts Tagged ‘TPLP’

Florida jury holds Philip Morris USA accountable for its actions in Federal Court

Thursday, September 25th, 2014

On September 16, 2014, a jury in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida returned a verdict of $27,010,000.14 against Philip Morris USA on behalf of Judith Berger, who started smoking in 1958 at the age of 14.  Clearly outraged by evidence of Philip Morris’ conduct in targeting children, the jury awarded over $20 million in punitive damages and added fourteen cents to the total.  Judith Berger, as did her now-deceased twin sister, developed severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from smoking.

Kenny Byrd, the lead trial counsel for Lieff Cabraser, which represented the plaintiff, was delighted with the verdict.  “We are pleased that the jury held Philip Morris accountable for their calculated choice to target children, such as Mrs. Berger, to take up smoking.  The addition of the 14 cents is just as meaningful as the $20 million before it.  The jury understood our society should protect 14-year-olds, not target them for profits as the cigarette industry does.”

One of the pieces of evidence presented to the jury was a Philip Morris memo that said “today’s teenager is tomorrow’s regular customer.”

This case in federal court is one of thousands of “Engle Progeny” lawsuits that were filed following the Supreme Court of Florida’s 2006 ruling in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 (Fla. 2006).  The trials in these lawsuits, which began in February 2009, have resulted in plaintiff verdicts in approximately two-thirds of the 120 such trials that have reached a jury verdict.  While most of these cases are being tried it state court, it is encouraging to see plaintiff victories occurring in federal court as well.

Not surprisingly, Philip Morris relied on its well-worn “personal responsibility” defense as its main attempt to evade accountability.  Plaintiff co-counsel Lance Oliver of Motley Rice LLC, commented that, at trial, “Philip Morris attempted to lay all the blame on Mrs. Berger for choices she made as a kid.  Thankfully, the jury saw through this and held Philip Morris accountable for its choices.”

When juries learn the details of outrageous tobacco industry behavior, the end result will be more verdicts – including punitive damages – comparable in size and scope as the one in this case.  After the verdict, Mrs. Berger reacted as follows: “I am so grateful that the jury held Philip Morris accountable for its actions over the past 60 years.  Before this lawsuit, I had no idea that the tobacco industry deliberately designed cigarettes to make them addictive and then conspired to lie to the public about their deadly effects.  I fought this battle in part for my twin sister Josephine – may she rest in peace – who died from the same disease that will take my life in the next few years.  I encourage anyone whose rights are violated by Philip Morris – or any corporation – to stand up, fight for justice and hold them accountable for their actions.”

Achieving justice and holding powerful corporations accountable for their wrongdoing: that’s what the Engle Progeny litigation is all about.

-Ed Sweda



TPLP Applauds Surgeon General Report’s Focus on Tobacco Litigation (#SGR50); Massachusetts Seen as New Frontier

Friday, January 17th, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Mark Gottlieb (617-373-2026) or Edward L. Sweda, Jr. (617-373-8462)

Boston – The U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health, which was released today at the White House, highlighted the importance of litigation against tobacco companies over the past 50 years in the United States.  Thanks to a landmark 2013 ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) in the case of Evans v. Lorillard Tobacco Co., the Bay State is poised to become the most attractive state in which to file product liability lawsuits against tobacco companies.

“The current state of the law in Massachusetts is that any cigarette that addicts or maintains the nicotine addiction of consumers is defective.  This precedent in Evans will tremendously benefit smokers who are seeking legal redress against tobacco manufacturers in Massachusetts,” said Mark Gottlieb, Director of the Tobacco Products Liability Project (TPLP), a project of the Public Health Advocacy Institute, which is based at Northeastern University School of Law.

In the Evans case, a Suffolk County jury in 2010 awarded the son of Marie Evans, a woman who died of lung cancer in 2002 at the age of 54 after she had been given free packs of Newport cigarettes as a child at the Orchard Park Housing Project, $71 million in compensatory damages – a figure later reduced to $35 million.  In June 2013, the SJC, while overturning an $81 million punitive damages award solely due to a flaw in jury instructions, upheld the compensatory damages award and ruled that it declines “to place addictive chemicals outside the reach of product liability and give them special protection akin to immunity based solely on the strength of their addictive qualities.”  In October, Lorillard announced that it had settled the case for $79 million ($35 million plus accumulated interest) and dropped its threatened appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“The SJC’s opinion in Evans now stands as a landmark precedent, binding in Massachusetts and potentially persuasive in any other jurisdiction in the country,” said Edward L. Sweda, Jr., TPLP’s Senior Attorney.  “Anyone who developed a tobacco-related disease from smoking any cigarettes (other than “ultra low tar and nicotine” cigarettes) in Massachusetts can now recover their damages from the cigarette manufacturer,” Sweda added.

Massachusetts residents and their families who have suffered from a disease or death caused by smoking should contact TPLP.



Historic $79 Million Cigarette Settlement Signifies Beginning of Wave of Tobacco Cases in Massachusetts

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Boston

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Mark Gottlieb – 617-373-2026

Massachusetts is now the most favorable state in the country to bring a cigarette smoking personal injury case.  A Massachusetts Tobacco Case Information Hotline has been established for victims of smoking and their families to learn more at: 888-991-8728 or here at www.MATobaccoCase.com.

Today’s announcement in Lorillard’s 8K SEC filing of a $79 million settlement for compensatory damages and interest and conclusion of Evans v. Lorillard Tobacco Co. marks the end of the first tobacco trial in Massachusetts since 1990.  Much has changed since then.

In 1994, a torrent of extraordinarily damaging documents from the cigarette companies’ internal files laying out how the companies hid what they knew about the dangers of their products from customers and government became available to the public.

After years of constant litigation and public disclosure of the industry’s bad behavior, in 2006, a federal judge issued a scathing opinion detailing in 1,500 pages of factual findings the industry’s improper activities and finding them liable for racketeering.

These developments have transformed the tobacco litigation landscape.  In Florida, under special rules subsequent to the dismissal of a class action, 71 out of 104 individual tobacco trials held over the past 4 years have resulted in verdicts for the plaintiff.  But the most important state for tobacco litigation is not Florida. It’s Massachusetts.

Massachusetts, benefitting from the combination of two key rulings by the Supreme Judicial Court, is the best state in the nation for litigation against cigarette manufacturers.

In Haglund v. Philip Morris (847 N.E. 2d 315 (2006)), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court unanimously rejected the tobacco industry’s blame-the-smoker-for-smoking defense.  This is the only court opinion in the country that has squarely held that, as a matter of law – except in extremely rare and unlikely cases – the so-called “personal choice defense” is unavailable to the tobacco companies.  The Court wrote that, “If Philip Morris chooses to market an inherently dangerous product, it is at the very least perverse to allow the company to escape liability by showing only that its product was used for its ordinary purpose.”  The affirmative defense that the smoker’s behavior was unreasonable or should have known the risks is not available in Massachusetts.

In this past June’s Supreme Judicial Court ruling in the case announced as settled today, Evans v. Lorillard (465 Mass. 411 (2013)), the Court held that Lorillard breached the implied warranty of merchantability and that cigarettes that were addictive and caused disease were not fit to be sold in Massachusetts.  This rendered virtually every cigarette sold here as defective. The Court reasoned, “We decline to place addictive chemicals outside the reach of product liability and give them special protection akin to immunity based solely on the strength of their addictive qualities.  . . . Rather, we conclude . . . that a reasonable jury could find from the evidence presented that a low tar, low nicotine cigarette constituted a safer reasonable alternative to Lorillard’s Newport cigarettes.”

By “low tar, low nicotine cigarette,” the Court is not referring to brands that were deceptively marketed as “light cigarettes.”  Rather it means cigarettes that do not addict and expose consumers to an array of carcinogens. While the cigarette companies could have sold such products, virtually no cigarettes sold in Massachusetts utilized such a reasonable alternative to the deadly and addictive products that have been so lucrative for Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Lorillard, Brown and Williamson, American Tobacco Co., or Liggett for so long.

As the book closes on Evans v. Lorillard, a new era of tobacco litigation based in Massachusetts is about to begin.  Individuals and family members of those who have suffered from a cigarette-caused illness such as lung cancer, COPD, Buerger’s disease or bladder cancer, to name a few, should contact the Massachusetts Tobacco Case Information Hotline at 888-991-8728 to learn more about their legal rights.  They can also contact the Hotline via the web here.

Mark Gottlieb, Director of the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University School of Law noted that, “The time for so many tobacco industry victims in Massachusetts to come forward to hold the industry responsible is finally here.”

Edward Sweda, Senior Attorney for the Project stated, “The state of the law in Massachusetts, as set forth by the Supreme Judicial Court, is that any cigarette that addicts or maintains the nicotine addiction of consumers is defective. This is great news for smokers who seek legal redress from the companies that put these defective products on the market. Conversely, it is disastrous news for the cigarette companies.”

-30-

The Tobacco Products Liability Project is a project of the Public Health Advocacy Institute.



PHAI publishes new resource: http://SmokeLitigation.org

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

PHAI has just published a new website consisting of searchable summaries of over 600 secondhand smoke lawsuits based in the United States.  The cases stretch back to the 1970s and the data was most recently updated in July, 2013.  We will continue to update the site and add new cases as well as indicate developments in existing cases.

The project is the work of our Senior Attorney Edward Sweda, who began compiling “Ed’s List” about 25 years ago.  The list has been published in the Tobacco Products Litigation Reporter and used by many tobacco control organizations and individuals seeking legal redress to smoke exposure problems.  The project would not have made it to the web but for the efforts of our summer intern, Rebecca Leff, who copied and formatted a 133 page single spaced document to create 628 case entries.

The site is searchable by type of case, e.g., custody disputes, real property, smoking in prisons, or litigation against tobacco companies, as well as the state where the action was filed.

Visit SmokeLitigation.org



Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rules that all cigarettes sold in Massachusetts are defective

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Edward L. Sweda, Jr. or  Mark Gottlieb

617-373-8462 or 617-373-2026

 2010 Verdict Reflected Juror Outrage at Handouts of Free Cigarettes to Children.

 

Marie Evans at the age Lorillard began handing her free samples of Newports

Marie Evans at the age Lorillard began handing her free samples of Newports

The SJC today unanimously rejected Lorillard Tobacco Co.’s attempt to evade liability in a case brought by Willie Evans, whose mother Marie died in 2002 at the age of 54.  Testimony at trial reported that while Marie was a child growing up in the Orchard Park housing project in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, she received free samples of Newport cigarettes.   Marie, who first received the free samples of Newport cigarettes when she was 9 or 10 years of age, became addicted by the time she was 13, according to lawyers for her son, Willie Evans.

Newport, which is Lorillard’s best-selling brand of cigarettes and contains menthol, has been heavily marketed toward the African-American community, a fact that was highlighted at the 2010 trial.

In today’s ruling the Massachusetts high court upheld the compensatory damages of $35 million but reversed a punitive damages award of $81 and sent the case back for a new trial on the issue of punitive damages. The Court found that the jury was not adequately instructed about the negligence claims pertaining to design and marketing.

However, the key finding was that the Court upheld the jury’s finding that Newport cigarettes were not fit to be sold in  Massachusetts (breaching the implied warranty of merchantability).

Lorillard could have and should have sold a safer alternative product that did not addict Ms. Evans and cause her lung cancer. The Court wrote:

We decline to place addictive chemicals outside the reach of product liability and give them special protection akin to immunity based solely on the strength of their addictive qualities.  . . . Rather, we conclude that, in determining as a matter of law whether the evidence presented at trial was sufficient for a reasonable jury to conclude that the plaintiff’s proposed design was a reasonable alternative to the defendant’s product, we must determine whether the design alternative unduly interfered with the performance of the product from the perspective of a rational, informed consumer, whose freedom of choice is not substantially impaired by addiction. Applying that standard to the evidence in this case, we conclude that a reasonable jury could find from the evidence presented that a low tar, low nicotine cigarette constituted a safer reasonable alternative to Lorillard’s Newport cigarettes. (emphasis added)

By “low tar, low nicotine cigarette,” the Court is not referring to brands that were deceptively marketed as “lights.”  It means cigarettes that do not addict and expose consumers to an array of carcinogens. As a matter of law in Massachusetts, any cigarette sold that addicts or maintains the nicotine addiction of consumers is defective.  That would include just about every cigarette sold in Massachusetts.

Mark Gottlieb, Director of the Tobacco Products Liability Project (TPLP), a project of the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) which is based at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, was delighted with today’s ruling: “Florida has been a hotbed of tobacco litigation in recent years because cigarettes there are considered defective as a matter of law for a former class of addicted smokers.  About 8,000 cases are awaiting trial in Florida.  After today’s ruling, this is  now the law in Massachusetts with the important difference that it applies to every plaintiff victim of cigarette industry products.  I expect many more cases here to help to address the suffering of victims like Marie Evans who were needlessly addicted in their youth to a deadly product.”

Edward L. Sweda, Jr., Senior Attorney for TPLP, added that, “It is high time that Lorillard is forced to pay the Evans family for the suffering caused by its outrageous practice of giving away deadly and addictive Newport cigarettes to children near housing projects.  This company’s profiteering for decades on the backs of African Americans must come to an end and today’s ruling is an important step in that process.”



2013 Altria Group, Inc. Annual Shareholders Meeting: Politely conducting business as usual

Friday, May 24th, 2013

By Edward L. Sweda, J.D.

Altria VA Headquarters

In sharp contrast to the manner in which management at Reynolds American, Inc. conducted its annual meeting of shareholders a week earlier,  Altria Group, Inc.’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Martin J. Barrington treated everyone at the May 16th meeting in Richmond, Virginia with courtesy and politeness.

Barrington began his presentation by commending the Altria Board of Directors’ “strong leadership and oversight.”  He touted “strong results in 2012” and declared that the company’s “main brands did well.”  Citing the company’s 9000 employees, Barrington praised the company for being a founding member of the Farm Labor Practices Group, supporting the arts and investing in communities. He admitted that “more needs to be done to discourage youth tobacco use” and, without giving any data showing how the program discourages youth tobacco use, praised Altria’s “We Card” program.

Barrington reported increased market share for Marlboro (in red, green, gold and black) cigarettes and progress for Black & Mild (tipped cigarillos) and the two major smokeless tobacco brands of Skoal and Copenhagen.  He informed the audience that the company would introduce NuMark, a brand of e-cigarettes, in the second half of 2013.

Altria’s CEO also assured shareholders that the company’s outlook for 2013 is good; he noted that Altria had increased dividends six separate times since 2008.  Also, Altria’s shareholder returns had increased by 84.2% during the span of 2008 to 2012.

On the topic of tobacco litigation, Barrington declared that the company had “success in managing litigation,” mentioned the ongoing Brown case in California dealing with light cigarettes and said that Altria has “strong defenses” as it continues to defend Engle Progeny cases in Florida.

A shareholder resolution,  submitted by the Province of St. Joseph of the Capuchin Order in Milwaukee, dealt with the issue of disclosure of the company’s lobbying policies and practices.  Specifically, it called on the Board of Directors to prepare a report, to be updated annually, for shareholders disclosing the following:

  1. “Company policy and procedures governing lobbying, both direct and indirect, and  Grassroots lobbying communications;
  2. “Payments by Altria used for (a) direct or indirect lobbying or (b) grassroots lobbying communications, in each case including the amount of the payment and the recipient;
  3. “Altria’s membership in and payments to any tax-exempt organization that writes and endorses model legislation; and
  4. “Description of the decision making process and oversight by management and the Board for making payments described in section 2 above.

Fr. Michael Crosby presented the resolution.  He stressed that, while Altria has disclosed its payments to political candidates, it has kept largely secret the details about its spending on lobbying and making contributions to third-party organizations such as ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council.  The resolution’s supporting statement pointed out that “Altria spent approximately $21.37 million in 2010 and 2011 on direct federal lobbying activities” but that these figures “do not include lobbying expenditures to influence legislation in states.”

This author then spoke in support of the “modest, pro-transparency resolution” and described the opposition to the resolution by Altria’s management as “short-sighted.”  The company had described the reports required by the proposal as imposing “additional and unnecessary burdens and costs on the Company and would not be in the best interests of the Company and its shareholders.”

The results of preliminary voting were reported that the resolution was defeated with supporters garnering 21.82% of the votes cast.

During the question and answer session, to which thirty minutes were allotted, this author noted that Altria had suffered a major setback in mid-March when the Florida Supreme Court ruled 6-1 that the way dozens of Engle Progeny trials have been conducted since February 2009 does not violate the tobacco companies’ due process rights.  I concluded my observations about this litigation with the question: Why shouldn’t shareholders believe tobacco company attorneys who have warned about “massive liability” with thousands of Engle Progeny cases still in the pipeline with “no end in sight,” rather than believing the optimistic assurances from management?

Barrington’s response was to acknowledge that litigation is a “challenge” and to refer shareholders to the company’s 10-Q report (PDF), which covers litigation in detail.

Fr. Crosby noted that heavy users of cigarettes are often those who are at the lowest rung of the economic ladder.  “What steps will Altria Group take to reduce consumption of its tobacco products by the poor?” Rev. Crosby asked.  Mr. Barrington simply cited the company’s programs to reduce youth consumption without addressing low-income adult smokers.  Even after a follow-up question by Fr. Crosby, Barrington refused to commit any company resources to trying to discourage tobacco consumption among low-income adults.

After the 67-minute meeting had been adjourned, Altria Group, Inc., with its Marlboro brand having increased its market share of cigarettes by two-tenths of a percentage point in the first quarter of 2013, continued to conduct its business as it so usually does.   During the course of the meeting, approximately 56 people died in the United States from smoking-caused diseases.

 



Big Victory at Florida Supreme Court is Bad News for Cigarette Manufacturers

Monday, March 18th, 2013

Florida smokers and their families who are suing tobacco companies won a resounding victory on March 14, 2013 when the Supreme Court of Florida upheld its landmark 2006 ruling in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., 945 So.2d 1246 (Fla. 2006).

By a vote of 6 to 1, Florida’s highest court ruled in favor of the plaintiff in Philip Morris USA, Inc., et al. v. Douglas, 2013 Fla. LEXIS 440, upholding a $2.5 million award in the death of Charlotte Douglas and explicitly rejecting industry arguments that the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling seven years ago violated the Due Process rights of the companies.

The Engle case originated as a class action and went to trial before a jury; that jury in Phase I of the trial found the defendant companies strictly liable, in that the cigarettes that the defendants manufactured and placed on the market “were defective in many ways including the fact that the cigarettes contained many carcinogens, nitrosamines, and other deleterious compounds such as carbon monoxide.”   While the case ultimately was not allowed to proceed as a class action, the Supreme Court of Florida ruled in 2006 that the members of the class could file their own individual cases (so-called “Engle Progeny” cases) and proceed with those cases relying upon the jury’s Phase I findings of liability, including that smoking caused a variety of specific diseases, that nicotine in cigarettes is addictive, that the tobacco defendants placed cigarettes on the market that were defective and unreasonably dangerous and that all of the Engle defendants were negligent.

The tobacco companies have argued that, despite the fact that they vigorously presented a defense to these claims during the original Engle trial, applying the Phase I findings to the Engle Progeny trials violates their due process rights.  Even though the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. relied on this argument unsuccessfully in the Martin case a year ago, (see http://www.phaionline.org/2012/03/26/supreme-court-rejects-key-tobacco-industry-appeal-leaving-massive-liability-with-no-end-in-sight/ ),  the companies tried again in Douglas.  Commenting on the original Engle trial, the six-member majority in Douglas said: “As illustrated by hundreds of witnesses, thousands of documents and exhibits and tens of thousands of pages of testimony, the Engle defendants had notice and the opportunity to defend against all theories of liability for each of the class’s claims in the yearlong Phase I trial.”

That six-member majority also noted that the tobacco defendants “argue that the Phase I findings establish, at most, that some of their cigarette were defective for some unspecified reason and that they engaged in some, unspecified tortious conduct.  This, they claim, requires reversal of the verdict for the plaintiff based on strict liability because the Douglas jury was not instructed (and did not find) a causal connection between a specific defect in the defendants’ cigarettes and the injuries alleged.  We disagree and decline the defendants’ invitation to revisit our decision in Engle.”

The majority clearly recognized and emphatically rejected the industry’s fundamental argument.  “At its core, the defendants’ due process argument is an attack on our decision in Engle to give the Phase I findings res judicata – as opposed to issue preclusion – effect in class members’ individual damages actions.   However, res judicata is the proper term, and we decline the defendants’ invitation to rewrite Engle.”

The decision was bad news for the tobacco industry and its friends on Wall Street.  Pro-industry analyst David J. Adelman of Morgan Stanley admitted that the ruling “was even more pro-plaintiff than we expected and will make it more difficult for the industry to successfully defend these claims.”

After the decision was released, Philip Morris USA announced that “it plans to seek further review” of the Douglas decision.  That means yet another attempt to persuade the Supreme Court of the United States to consider the industry’s appeal that Engle Progeny trials that result in plaintiff verdicts somehow violate the companies’ due process rights.  If the Supreme Court of the United States makes the same decision it made a year ago about an almost identical appeal (Martin), the answer to the tobacco companies will be a final “No.”

-Edward L. Sweda, Senior Attorney for the Tobacco Products Liability Project

 



Supreme Court Rejects Key Tobacco Industry Appeal Leaving “Massive Liability . . . with no End in Sight.”

Monday, March 26th, 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:  Edward L. Sweda 617-373-8462

Tobacco companies face the prospect of having to pay billions of dollars in liability to Florida smokers after the U.S. Supreme Court today denied Reynolds American’s petition for certiorari in the case of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. v. Mathilde Martin, No. 11-754.

The company had appealed a $28.3 million judgment against Reynolds for the death of Benny Ray Martin, the husband of Mathilde Martin. Her case is one of thousands of “Engle Progeny” lawsuits in Florida, cases that followed the landmark 2006 ruling by the Florida Supreme court in Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc., 945 So. 2d 1246 (Fla. 2006).

Edward L. Sweda, Jr., Senior Attorney for the Tobacco Products Liability Project (a project of the Public Health Advocacy Institute based at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston) was ecstatic to learn of the denial of Reynolds’ cert petition. “At long last, Reynolds and the other major tobacco companies will be held accountable for their massive and reprehensible misconduct that harmed thousands of Florida smokers. As Reynolds’ own lawyers have concluded, denial of its cert petition is a very big deal indeed,” Sweda said.

In arguing in December 2011 that its petition should be granted, Reynolds’ attorneys (Paul D. Clement of Bancroft PLLC, Gregory G. Katsas of Jones Day and Eric E. Murphy of Jones Day) claimed that in “their conduct of Engle progeny litigation, the Florida state courts are engaged in serial due-process violations that threaten the defendants with literally billions of dollars of liability.” (emphasis added) Moreover, “the massive liability imposed on the Engle defendants – which currently stands at over $375 million in adverse judgments – will… steadily increase as Engle progeny trials continue with no end in sight.” (emphasis added).

TPLP Director, Mark Gottlieb, noted that, “while cigarette companies’ statements are often thought to be disingenuous, in the case of Reynold’s Petition to the Court, it is absolutely true that the Engle cases create ‘massive liability’ with ‘no end in sight.'” Gottlieb added: “But the industry’s liability is not limited to these cases.  Verdicts like the Evans case in Boston ($81 million) and Schwarz in Oregon ($25 million) can and should become more commonplace beyond the Sunshine State.”

Currently, of the 61 Engle Progeny cases that have reached a verdict (not counting mistrials), 41 have been plaintiff verdicts (one of which was overturned on appeal on statute of limitations grounds and is being further appealed) and 20 have been defense verdicts, with thousands of cases awaiting trial. “Today is a great day for thousands of Florida residents who turned to the American judicial system to seek justice,” Sweda concluded.



Canadian Class Action Lawsuits Seek Billions of Dollars from Major Tobacco Companies

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Two historic class action lawsuits that were filed in 1998 finally reached trial on March 12, 2012 in Montreal.  The cases, Cecilia Letourneau v. JTI_Macdonald Corp., Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc. and Conseil quebecois sur le tabac et la santé and Jean-Yves Blais v. JTI-Macdonald Corp., Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd. and Rothmans, Benson & Hedges Inc, carry specific demands by the plaintiffs.

In the Letourneau case, the plaintiffs demand a payment of $5000 to each addicted Quebec smoker as compensation for his or her addiction, while the plaintiffs in the Blais case demand $100,000 in compensation for each Quebec smoker who has suffered from lung cancer, emphysema, larynx cancer or throat cancer.   The estimate for the total amount sought in these two cases is $27 billion (Can).

The cases were certified as class actions in 2005.  Three years later, each of the tobacco company defendants brought in the federal government as third party defendants.

Rob Cunningham, senior policy analysts for the Canadian Cancer Society, told the Montreal Gazette that the trial is “a chance to find out what the industry knew, when they knew it and how they used the information.”   A daily blog is available for updates on the trial, which is expected to last at least two years, at http://tobaccotrial.blogspot.com

-Edward Sweda



Jury in Miami Assesses $25 Million in Punitive Damages Against Tobacco Firm in an Engle Progeny Trial

Tuesday, March 6th, 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Edward L. Sweda, Jr. (617) 373-8462

A Florida state jury today assessed $25 million in punitive damages against Lorillard Tobacco Co. for its reprehensible misconduct involving the lung cancer death of Coleman Alexander.  His widow Dorothy, a retired nurse who brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the company, was awarded $20 million in compensatory damages last week.

Edward L. Sweda, Jr., Senior Attorney for the Tobacco Products Liability Project (TPLP), of the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) which is based at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, was delighted by the jury’s verdict.  “This jury was justifiably outraged by the reprehensible behavior of Lorillard, whose actions were found to be a legal cause of Mr. Alexander’s death from lung cancer,” Sweda said.  “The award is absolutely appropriate given the facts of what Lorillard has done,” he added.

Mark Gottlieb, who directs TPLP, noted that, “the liability shadow hanging over the cigarette industry won’t go away with thousands of more cases lined up for trial in Florida and beyond.”

Coleman Alexander died in 1995 from small cell lung cancer after having smoked for more than 40 years.  One of the brands he had smoked, Kent, was manufactured by Lorillard.  The jury last week found that Mr. Alexander was addicted to cigarettes containing nicotine and that his addiction was a legal cause of his death.

Since February 2009, verdicts (not counting mistrials) in Engle Progeny trials in Florida have been 41 for plaintiffs and 19 for the tobacco companies, for a winning percentage for the plaintiffs of 68.3%.  One of those 41 plaintiff verdicts has been overturned on appeal.

Dorothy Alexander is represented by Alex Alvarez of the Alvarez Law Firm, by Gary Paige of the Paige Law Firm and by Jordan Chaikin of Parker Waichman LLP.  The case is The Estate of Coleman Alexander v. Lorillard Tobacco Co., case number 2007-046830-CA-01.

The Tobacco Products Liability Project is a project of the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI) at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston, MA. PHAI is an independent federally recognized non-profit charity.




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