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Tobacco Litigation Trials: 1954-present

State Governments Seek Payback

During this time, Lewis discussed the tobacco litigation with his friend Michael Moore, who was attorney general of Mississippi, and Richard F. Scruggs. The men knew that state governments were spending huge sums of money, through state Medicaid programs and in other ways, to pay for the health hazards of smoking. Also, they realized that individuals could make a decision to smoke despite the risks, but the states had never had the opportunity to make the choice to pay for individuals' ill health. With funding from some of the Castano attorneys, the state of Mississippi—which several other states soon joined—sued the major tobacco companies to recover the costs of smoking that it had borne for its citizens. Deception and addiction again were the key arguments. Mississippi filed the complaint in May 1994, two months after the beginning of the Castano case. Eventually, nearly every state in the country became a party to the litigation.

In the Castano case, the courts ultimately refused to certify all addicted American smokers as a single class and the Castano attorneys soon filed a group of smaller class action lawsuits in various state courts. But in early 1996, before the Castano trial came to an end, the Liggett Group, one of the nation's largest tobacco companies, broke ranks with the others to reach a settlement. This landmark breach in the wall of tobacco company liability required Liggett to pay more than $1 billion to cover some state health care costs for smokers and to fund smoking-cessation programs, in exchange for immunity from future addiction suits.

Still facing concerted action from the state governments, the tobacco companies as a group agreed to another settlement in 1998. In exchange for immunity from future lawsuits, the companies agreed to pay almost $250 billion to the states over a period of 25 years; to limit tobacco advertising; and to take various steps to reduce youth access to tobacco products.

During all of these maneuverings, individual suits continued, made more potent by new evidence from "whistleblower" industry executives, government investigations, and tobacco company documents that the Castano and the states' suits had brought to light. These new revelations indicated that tobacco companies had indeed known of nicotine's addictive qualities and that they had tried to hide that knowledge. Because of these revelations, juries began to believe (and reward plaintiffs accordingly) that smokers had not really known the risks involved in choosing to smoke. A few months after the Castano settlement with Liggett, a Florida jury found the Brown & Williamson Company liable for causing the plaintiff's lung cancer, awarding him $750,000. In 1999, a California jury awarded another smoker punitive damages of $50 million from the Philip Morris Company.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962Tobacco Litigation Trials: 1954-present - Plaintiffs Find A New Argument, State Governments Seek Payback, The Feds Hop On Board, Suggestions For Further Reading