Federal Appeals Court Denies Class-Action Tobacco Suit
Sayre, Alan, THE JOURNAL RECORD
NEW ORLEANS -- In a huge victory for the tobacco industry, a federal appeals court Thursday rejected a class-action liability suit brought against cigarette manufacturers on behalf of millions of smokers across the country.
A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously agreed with industry arguments that a case of such magnitude would be too unwieldy.
The lawsuit had the potential to be the biggest class-action case in history, embracing practically anyone who claimed to be hooked on cigarettes and exposing the tobacco industry to billions of dollars in claims.
It accuses the industry of concealing knowledge that nicotine is addictive and manipulating nicotine levels to keep smokers hooked.
Under the appeals court ruling, the case can still go forward as a lawsuit on behalf of the original plaintiffs -- three smokers and Dianne Castano, whose husband died of lung cancer.
The lawsuit was filed in 1994 against the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., American Tobacco Co., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., Philip Morris USA, Lorillard Corp., United States Tobacco, the Liggett Group and the industry's lobbying arm, the Tobacco Institute.
Liggett, the smallest of the nation's major tobacco companies, broke ranks in March and agreed to settle, pledging to dedicate some of its profits over 25 years to pay for stop-smoking programs.However, Liggett reserved the right to back out of the deal if the class-action was nullified.
In a statement, Brown & Williamson hailed the ruling as "a strong message to class-action plaintiffs' lawyers to stop the insanity in our nation's courts."
The plaintiffs' attorneys said that they haven't decided whether to appeal but that they plan to file numerous class-action lawsuits in state courts to keep the pressure on the industry.
"If anything, the process is going to move ahead aggressively and become increasingly challenging for the tobacco defendants, because they'll have more fronts to fight," attorney Cliff Douglas said. …