W.Va. Tobacco Litigation Goes Up in Smoke

Published in CSP Daily News

Jury rejects most claims and punitive damages in consolidated trial

RICHMOND, Va. -- A unanimous jury in Charleston, W.Va., on Wednesday rejected all but one of the plaintiffs' claims in a consolidated trial involving approximately 600 individual lawsuits against major tobacco companies Altria Group Inc., Reynolds American Inc. and Lorillard Inc.

This case was tried in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County, W.Va.

In reaching its decision, the jury also rejected the plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages. The decision did not establish any liability against any of the defendants or award any monetary damages.

"We believe that the jury appropriately rejected the plaintiffs' claims for design defect, negligence, failure to warn, breach of warranty, and concealment and refused to find that any of PM USA's conduct warranted punitive damages," said Murray Garnick, Altria Client Services senior vice president and associate general counsel, speaking on behalf of Philip Morris USA (PM USA). "The plaintiffs prevailed only on the narrow claim that ventilated filter cigarettes between 1964 and July 1, 1969, should have included instructions on how to properly use them."

He added, "Today's decision may allow some individual plaintiffs to move forward with their individual cases; however, only those individuals who smoked ventilated filter cigarettes between 1964 and 1969 may pursue claims and those individuals will be required to show a link between the failure to instruct and their injuries. Although we disagree with the jury's verdict on this narrow claim, in the event that any plaintiff chooses to pursue this claim, PM USA has strong defenses."

The decision came in In re: Tobacco Litigation (Individual Personal Injury Cases) in which approximately 600 West Virginia plaintiffs' cases were tried under a two-phase trial plan. Phase I was to determine so-called "common issues" about whether all cigarettes are defective, whether the companies acted negligently or concealed the danger of smoking, and whether the companies' conduct warranted punitive damages. In Phase II, individual plaintiffs who choose to pursue their claims will be tried separately. Of the 600 consolidated cases, 346 are pending against PM USA.