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TOBACCO COMPANIES CAN BE SUED OVER CLAIMS ON SMOKING DANGERS

SHARE TOBACCO COMPANIES CAN BE SUED OVER CLAIMS ON SMOKING DANGERS

The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that cigarette companies may be sued under state laws for allegedly misrepresenting the dangers of smoking. The decision could prompt a flood of lawsuits seeking billions of dollars from the companies.

The court said a federal law requiring warning labels on cigarette packages does not shield the companies from all suits based on state personal-injury laws.The ruling is a big victory for the family of the late Rose Cipollone of New Jersey, who died of lung cancer at the age of 58 in 1984 after 42 years of smoking.

The nine-year legal battle between the family and the cigarette industry now goes back for a new trial in New Jersey.

The justices voted 7-2 to allow the family to sue the cigarette companies on grounds the manufacturers deliberately concealed the dangers of smoking and also conspired to withhold the truth.

Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the court, said the basis for such a lawsuit goes beyond any restrictions in the federal labeling law. Such claims are predicated on a manufacturer's duty not to deceive, he said.

But the court rejected efforts by the Cipollone family to sue the companies on the grounds that their advertising neutralized the effect of the federally required warning labels.

Stevens said that claim is preempted by federal law because the family is alleging the companies tried to minimize smoking's health hazards in their advertising rather than deliberately deceive.

Thus, while the ruling permits the companies to be sued, it sets standards that still may make it difficult for people to win their cases.

Federal law "pre-empts the imposition of state law obligations with respect to the advertising or promotion of cigarettes," Stevens said.