Law: Smoking Can Seriously Damage Your Litigation ; in the US, Claimants with Cigarette-Related Diseases Have Won Billions of Dollars from Tobacco Companies. Why Are UK Courts Lagging Behind?
Care, Alan, The Independent (London, England)
LITIGATION AGAINST tobacco companies in the UK by cancer victims was reported as over when the previous attempt at claiming damages through our courts failed in 1998. (Judgment Hodgson & Othrs v Imperial Tobacco & othrs December 1998).
The tobacco industry lobby claimed victory by forcing the two lead firms of solicitors to agree to a confidentiality clause and a ten-year ban on them taking any further part in tobacco litigation.
In the US, state health authorities took on the tobacco companies and won billions of dollars of damages; here nothing has really been decided except by a single judge (Mr Justice Wright) who considered a number of stale cases and has said that these were not bought expeditiously. No detailed consideration of the real issues of damage caused by smoking has yet been carried out by a UK court.
British courts have not considered the primary liability or fault of the tobacco companies and whether or not they were supplying/ selling an unsafe and addictive product and should pay compensation to smokers. This is the question that should be addressed by considering the appropriate "test" case.
It is interesting that for many years the courts have taken into account in respiratory and lung claims (for example caused by asbestos) the fact that the individual is a smoker. The first question a lawyer or doctor invariably asks a client who has a claim caused by a respiratory agent is, "Do you smoke?".
A discount and reduction of that client's damages for contributory negligence is then made for the part of that illness caused by smoking rather than the other implicated substance. Therefore the legal profession and judiciary have already implicitly accepted that smoking causes health damage. That battle was over many years ago.
It is established beyond doubt by medical and scientific opinion that smoking is a cause of lung cancer. Despite this, tobacco companies continue to sell cigarettes, making vast profits. Our hospitals are filled with smokers who are suffering from fatal cigarette-related diseases. All parts of the medical profession call for this state of affairs to end.
Tobacco companies put their substantial financial resources into defending their product to the hilt. In fact, in the years before the breakthrough in the US litigation by state authorities, the majority of US lawyers considered suing tobacco companies as a "graveyard" for litigation. This was because the early rash of cases failed and the litigation was highly expensive and procedural hearings went on for years. …