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Suit Seeks $2 Billion for Smokers

July 21, 1998

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) _ Minnesota could lose at least a third of its $6.1 billion tobacco settlement if smokers win a class-action lawsuit against the state.

The lawsuit was filed Friday in Hennepin County District Court on behalf of an estimated 70,000 people. The matter is considered a ``proposed class action″ until the court validates the class members and the action.

``We don’t start a lawsuit unless we think the chances are good,″ Ron Meshbesher, one of the lawyers, said Monday.

The smokers were ``the injured parties and are entitled to recover the difference between the amount of the tobacco settlement and the amount of monies expended by the state, under the medical assistance and general assistance programs, to treat smoking-related illnesses,″ according to the attorneys.

Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III, who settled the state’s lawsuit, expected the proposed class action to be dismissed quickly. The state’s case was based on antitrust and consumer fraud laws so the money belongs to the state, he said.

Even if the lawsuit doesn’t greatly reduce the state’s share of the settlement, it could delay plans to spend it by tying it up in the courts. Already, gubernatorial candidates have lined up with ideas on how to spend it, from buying prescription drugs for senior citizens to a comprehensive anti-smoking campaign.

During the four-month trial, the state sought $1.77 billion in damages for treating smoking-related illnesses. The proposed class-action lawsuit asks for not less than a third of the state’s net recovery.

It doesn’t seek any of the $469 million that the settlement awarded to Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

The lawsuit seeks to represent smokers who were on medical or general assistance from 1978 through 1996.

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