The winning streak that Philip Morris USA, Inc. has been enjoying for years has finally broken, and with a bang. Florida resident Richard Boatright was awarded $35 million in compensatory and punitive damages (Philip Morris was found 85% liable, but also penalized for fraud and conspiracy) for his personal injury claim against the tobacco company. He had to undergo two lung transplants for medical conditions caused by cigarette smoking. And he is likely to be just the first of thousands to make a successful bid for compensation for health problems caused by cigarette smoking.
It is common knowledge now that cigarette smoking is extremely hazardous to the health, but back in the 1960s, it was an uphill battle for plaintiffs to prove that tobacco companies had a measure of liability for their failure to warn and misleading and unconscionable (they targeted children) marketing tactics. It took years, and many appeals before the Supreme Court finally ruled that the defenses used by tobacco companies to avoid the consequences of their liabilities, including that of preemption, did not apply to the personal injury cases brought before them.
Even 46 states have made a claim against the tobacco companies in 1998 where it became apparent that:
- Nicotine, a component of tobacco, is addictive
- There was a causal link between cigarette smoking and certain diseases
- Tobacco companies knew but concealed evidence about these facts since the 1960s
The states sued tobacco companies for the medical costs of tobacco-related illnesses, which eventually resulted in the Master Settlement Agreement for $206 billion.
However, it may be too early to celebrate. Tobacco companies are notorious for dodging the liability bullet; a 2000 class action (Engle v. Liggett Group, Inc.) $145 billion verdict representing about 8,000 plaintiff was vacated in 2006 because the cases were not appropriate for a class action lawsuit, and was decertified. Each plaintiff was allowed to re-file their cases as individuals, but it was only in 2014 when the first of the so-called “Engle Progeny” finally saw justice. Only time will reveal if tobacco companies will finally pay the piper.
According to the website of Pohl & Berk, LLP, if you have just recently discovered that you have a medical condition caused by cigarette smoking, you could still make a claim. Contact a personal injury lawyer in your area to gain a better understanding of your legal options.