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Cipollone v. Liggett Group: 1988

Cippolone Dies, But Her Case Proceeds, Suggestions For Further Reading

Plaintiff: Estate of Rose Cipollone
Defendant: Liggett Group
Plaintiff Claims: That the defendant, a cigarette company, was liable for Rose Cipollone's death from cancer because it failed to warn consumers about the dangers of smoking
Chief Defense Lawyer: H. Bartow Farr Ill
Chief Lawyers for Plaintiff: Alan Darnell, Marc Z. Edell, and Cynthia Walters
Judge: H. Lee Sarokin
Place: Newark, New Jersey
Dates of Trial: February 1-June 13, 1988
Decision: Jury awarded plaintiff damages of $400,000; reversed on appeal, and lawsuit later dropped

SIGNIFICANCE: Despite encouraging early victories, the lesson of the Cipollone case is that smokers face very burdensome legal difficulties in suing cigarette companies.

Rose Cipollone of Little Ferry, New Jersey, was born in 1926. Like many people of her generation, she took up smoking at an early age, in her case, 16. Although medical studies examining evidence of a link between smoking and cancer began to appear as early as the 1920s, they' were not widely read, and the U.S. Surgeon General didn't look into the issue until 1962. In 1966 the first federal law on cigarette warning labels went into effect, and in 1969 Congress passed a stricter law requiring that the label, "Warning: The Surgeon General Has Determined That Cigarette Smoking Is Dangerous to Your Health," be printed on all cigarette packs.

Decade after decade, the cigarette industry spent billions of dollars on advertising. Newspaper, magazine, radio, and television ads extolled the pleasures of smoking. There was no mention of any risk, and the tobacco companies vigorously fought government regulation in the 1960's and 1970's with studies of their own that denied any health risk from smoking. Meanwhile, Cipollone had been smoking since 1942. Her favorite brands were Chesterfields and L&M, manufactured by Liggett Group, Inc., one of the smaller tobacco companies.

In 1981, Dr. Nathan Seriff diagnosed Cipollone as having lung cancer, caused by smoking cigarettes. Cipollone filed a lawsuit against Liggett on August 1, 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey in Newark. She was represented by Alan Darnell, Marc Z. Edell, and Cynthia Walters, and the judge was H. Lee Sarokin. Of Liggett's team of defense lawyers, who worked to prevent the case from going to trial for nearly five years, the most prominent lawyer was H. Bartow Farr III… Early in the litigation, however, Cipollone won an important victory when Sarokin refused to dismiss the case on the grounds that Liggett's compliance with the federal warning-label law absolved Liggett from further legal liability:

This case presents the issue of whether cigarette manufacturers can be subjected to tort liability if they have complied with the federal warning requirement.… In effect, the cigarette industry argues that such compliance immunizes it from liability to anyone who has chosen to smoke cigarettes notwithstanding the warning, that federal legislation has created an irrebuttable presumption that the risk of injury has been assumed by the consumer. This court rejects that contention.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988