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April 15, 2008

New York Appellate Court Overturns Negligent-Design Verdict Against Tobacco Companies

A New York appellate court overturned a jury verdict in favor of a decades-long smoker who claimed that the tobacco company defendants negligently designed their products by continuing to produce cigarettes with higher levels of tar and nicotine than so-called "light" cigarettes.  A Manhattan jury had handed down a $3.4 million compensatory award to be evenly split between Philip Morris and Brown & Williamson, and a $7.1 million punitive award against Philip Morris.  The appellate court noted that New York law requires a plaintiff in a negligent design case to prove that the product created a substantial likelihood of harm and that it was feasible to design the product in a safer manner.  The majority held that, though it was technically feasible to manufacture "light" cigarettes, the plaintiff had failed to prove that regular cigarettes retained their "inherent usefulness" to consumers.  Unless the plaintiffs proved such "consumer acceptability" of light cigarettes with their different tastes and psychological effects due to lower tar and nicotine levels, they could not show that the alternative design was "feasible" and thus failed to make out a prima facie case of negligent design. See Noeleen Walder's story for the New York Law Journal.

JDP

April 15, 2008 | Permalink

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