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Cipollone v. Liggett Group

Cippolone Dies, But Her Case Proceeds

Sarokin's decision was issued on 20 September 1984, and generated enormous publicity about the case. The prospect of successful smokers' litigation sent tobacco company stocks into a tailspin. Unfortunately for her, Cipollone died shortly thereafter, on 21 October 1984. Her husband, Antonio Cipollone, continued the case on behalf of her estate. After years of foot dragging and delays by Liggett's attorneys, the Cipollone case finally went to trial on 1 February 1988. Just getting the case to trial was an accomplishment: of the 300 lawsuits on record against tobacco companies in the previous 40 years, fewer than 10 went actually gone to trial.

Edell, the senior attorney in the Cipollone legal team, described Liggett's legal defenses to the jury as basically a statement to all smokers:

If you trusted us, if you thought we would test, if you thought we would warn, if you believed our statement in the press, if you believed our advertisements, if you were stupid enough to believe us, then you deserve what you got.

Cipollone's attorneys introduced documents showing that the cigarette companies were aware of smoking-related health risks before the government took any action but failed to disclose these risks to the consumer. For example, one Liggett report from 1961 described certain ingredients in cigarettes as "(a) cancer-causing, (b) cancer-promoting, (c) poisonous, (d) stimulating, pleasurable, and flavorful."

On 13 June 1988 the jury returned its verdict. It was a very conservative mostly based on Liggett's failure prior to the 1966 law to warn smokers like Cipollone about the dangers of smoking. Further, the jury found that Cipollone was 80 percent responsible for her death by smoking, and Liggett only 20 percent responsible. Nevertheless, the jury assessed $400,000 in damages against Liggett, the first such award in tobacco-litigation history.

Liggett appealed, and the case ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court on 8 October 1991. During the lengthy appellate process, however, Antonio Cipollone died in 1990. His son, Thomas Cipollone of Grass Valley, California, carried on the case on behalf of both his parents' estates. The Supreme Court required the parties to reargue the case on 13 January 1992 and issued its opinion on 24 June 1992. Although the Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that health warnings on cigarette packs do not shield cigarette companies like Liggett from personal-injury lawsuits, the Court did impose tougher evidentiary requirements concerning the companies' advertising and promotions. The case would have to be retried.

Thomas Cipollone and the attorneys had enough. After nine years of expensive litigation, they were back at square one, facing even more time-consuming hurdles resulting from the Supreme Court's decision. To make matters worse, Judge Sarokin had been removed from the case for public comments he had made on his belief that the tobacco industry was hiding evidence. On 5 November 1992, the Cipollone family dropped their case against Liggett. While the initial jury verdict was the first of its kind in American legal history, the ultimate lesson is that the tobacco companies can delay and delay in court until their victims die or give up in despair.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988Cipollone v. Liggett Group - Significance, Cippolone Dies, But Her Case Proceeds, Related Cases, Joe Camel And The Advertising Controversy