clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Judge snuffs out major tobacco lawsuit

A federal judge threw out a major class-action lawsuit against the tobacco industry Friday, saying the statute of limitations had run out because the smokers should have known the dangers of cigarettes years ago.

The lawsuit was filed by a group of smokers on behalf of some 2.1 million cigarette-addicted Pennsylvanians who started lighting up as youngsters. It would have been the next major tobacco trial had it begun as scheduled on Nov. 4.Instead, the state of Minnesota's huge lawsuit to recoup smoking-related medical costs from the industry is up next. It is scheduled to begin in January.

Aside from the sheer size of the lawsuit, the Pennsylvania case was important because it took a novel approach. Instead of asking for money, it demanded that the tobacco companies provide medical monitoring for all of the state's smokers and ex-smokers to diagnose and treat smoking-related diseases early.

In throwing out the case, U.S. District Judge Clarence Newcomer wrote: "Each of these five plaintiffs knew, or should have known, that smoking cigarettes put him or her at a significantly increased risk of contracting a serious latent disease years before they filed the . . . suit. Thus, the medical monitoring claims of these five plaintiffs are barred by the statute of limitations."

Newcomer rejected arguments that cigarette manufacturers are causing "continuing harm" to smokers by making their products as addictive as possible and suppressing research showing smoking to be harmful.