Md. Court Rejects Smokers’ Lawsuit
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) _ In a major victory for cigarette makers, the state’s highest court has ruled that Maryland smokers seeking damages from the nation’s tobacco companies cannot join together in a class-action lawsuit.
In a 4-3 decision Tuesday, the Court of Appeals nullified a 1998 court order by a Baltimore Circuit Court judge that had united plaintiffs in a statewide lawsuit against cigarette makers.
``The individual issues in this case would necessitate potentially hundreds of thousands of somewhat extensive trials,″ Judge Irma S. Raker wrote for the majority. ``Such a trial plan hardly promotes judicial economy.″
The ruling leaves an ongoing lawsuit in Florida as the only one in the United States where a statewide class-action suit on behalf of individuals seeking damages for smoking-related illnesses has been allowed.
``We are pleased that the Maryland Court of Appeals, like some two dozen other federal and state courts, has concluded that class actions are simply inappropriate for litigating smoking and health cases,″ said William S. Ohlemeyer, Philip Morris general counsel.
The lawsuit, covering Maryland residents with smoking-related diseases or who are addicted to nicotine, is separate from the $4.6 billion the state is to receive under a national settlement covering smoking-related health care costs.
The lawsuit claimed that tobacco manufacturers researched, designed, produced and marketed cigarettes to state residents with the knowledge that the products are addictive and hazardous to human health. The suit also said tobacco companies withheld information about the risks of smoking and denied a link between tobacco and disease.
In the Florida case, opening statements begin next week in the penalty phase. Jurors have already sided with an estimated 500,000 sick Florida smokers by deciding the industry conspired to produce a deadly product and should pay $12.7 million to three representative smokers.
Compensation for the rest of the class must now be determined.
The defendants are Philip Morris Inc., R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson, Lorillard Tobacco Co., Liggett and the industry’s Council for Tobacco Research and Tobacco Institute.