Selected Tobacco Lawsuits

by Nelson Chamiz

In general tobacco lawsuits were no common place in the 50s and 60s. Tobacco litigation was rare due to a the prevailing lack of information about the dangers of smoking.

Even though there was overall understanding that tobacco was damaging to health the public had hook and crook swallowed misleading messages by tobacco advertisements. Tobacco industry advertisements did not warn users of the deadly outcome of continuing to smoke.

As what became public in the mid-90s on several occasions the tobacco industry had been advised and was fully aware of the effects of smoking. From the time that tobacco establishments admitted to 4000 toxins and over 500 additives in cigarettes, tobacco lawsuits became more frequent and successful.

Litigation actions were mixed between individuals and class action. They became more common and winnable from year 2000. Tobacco litigation was mostly done by widows claiming damages for their dead husbands who had started smoking in the 1950s and 1960s under a lot of tobacco effects secrecy by tobacco companies.

It would appear the greatest hit tobacco company was Philip Morris the biggest tobacco company in the USA. The biggest in the world is in China.

Philip Morris USA v Williams, 05-1256

In 2007 the widow of Jesse Williams who died of lung cancer in 1997 at the age of 67 claimed a US$500 000 compensation for the death of her husband due to smoking Marlboro cigarettes. Jesse Williams smoked two packs a day for 45 years.

The plaintiff claimed Philip Morris the markers of Marlboro carried out "massive market-directed fraud" that deceived people into concluding cigarettes were not dangerous or addictive.

Initially in the tobacco litigation case the widow had claimed a bigger $79 million as punitive damages to punish the company for the deception done to the public and her husband. She was however awarded $500 000 compensation for her husband's death.

Philip Morris v Hess

Tobacco lawsuits took no break. Elaine Hess the widow of Stuart Hess who died at age 55 from lung cancer sued Philip Morris for the death of her husband. Stuart Hess smoked three packs of cigarettes a day for decades.

In its defense Philip Morris argued that the victim was free to quit smoking at anytime. The company gave this defense even though it new nicotine is addictive and stopping smoking is hard. The court threw out the tobacco company argument.

Philip Morris lost the case and was ordered to pay a total of $8 million to Elaine Morris. The court awarded Elaine $2 million, their son $1 million. A further $5 million was awarded by the court as punishment to Philip Morris for public deception about the addictive nature of the drug nicotine found in tobacco cigarettes.

All in all the court found the company in the tobacco lawsuit 42% responsible for what happened and Stuart Hess 58% responsible for his own situation and eventual death.

Altria Group, Inc. V Good, 07-562

Altria Group, Inc is a parent company to Philip Morris. Stephanie Good and other smokers brought a class action law suit against Altria and its subsidiary Philip Morris suing for cigarette advertising misrepresentations.

Good and others claimed that the Malboro light cigarettes manufactured by the tobacco company gave a false impression that they contained less tar and nicotine and were consequently healthier than full flavored cigarettes.

Even though the cigarettes may have contained less tar and nicotine, the compensatory actions by smokers would equate the tar and nicotine in-take to same levels as normal standard cigarettes.

The Plaintiffs did not claim any damages but wanted to be paid back all the money spent on the cigarettes for years. The case is still to be determined.

Tobacco litigation is likely to continue until smokers affected by the information black-out and deception of the 50s and 60s are somehow cleared. In Florida alone there are some 8000 tobacco lawsuits pending hearing.

Families were left to fight own battles with the tobacco industry after the state supreme court dismissed a class action suit for $145 billion.


Return to Articles on Tobacco and Health from Selected Tobacco Lawsuits