February 16, 2007
California Supreme Court Decision on Tobacco Statutes of Limitations
Article in the Los Angeles Times -- Court ruling reignites tobacco suits, by Maura Dolan:
The California Supreme Court made it possible Thursday for people who become ill from smoking to once again win large judgments from tobacco companies, unanimously rejecting a four-year-old federal court decision that had virtually halted all smoker lawsuits in the state.
"It reopens tobacco litigation in California," said Northeastern University Law Professor Richard A. Daynard, who heads a group that promotes lawsuits against the industry. "The light just went from red to green."
Since California began allowing individual lawsuits over smoking damage in 1998, plaintiffs had won some of the biggest tobacco awards in the country, including a $28-billion jury verdict in Los Angeles.
The awards came to a halt when a federal appeals court in 2002 set a strict deadline, saying smokers should have filed suit years earlier, when it became widely known that smoking was a health hazard and addictive.
Taking advantage of the federal ruling, the tobacco industry had exercised its right to move cases into federal court, which hears disputes between litigants in different states. Lawyers said every single case was dismissed.
In a decision written by Justice Carlos R. Moreno, the high court said that although judges and juries can presume that plaintiffs should have known of the dangers and filed their lawsuits earlier, smokers can rebut that presumption by presenting evidence that tobacco companies misrepresented the risks.
"Although knowledge of smoking addiction has been widespread … ," Moreno wrote, "tobacco companies misrepresentation of the danger and addictiveness of smoking were also widespread."
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