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Can Tobacco Companies Still Be Sued for Causing Cancer?

While the 1990’s saw a string of very large settlements from class actions against various individual tobacco companies and the tobacco industry in general.  One class action settlement in particular involved hundreds of millions of dollars paid to state governments that sued the tobacco industry for the hundreds of millions in Medicaid funds that the states paid to provide medical care for victims of lung cancer and others illnesses caused by smoking.

But what about individual plaintiffs?  Can they still sue a tobacco company if they feel that their lung cancer or other types of cancer was caused by smoking?

The technical answer is that anyone can file a lawsuit against anyone else, at almost anytime, for anything.  The civil justice system provides that wide access for good reason – -so that no one can be ‘shut out of court’; and so that the average person can take on huge, deep-pocketed defendants.  So that injured victims can take on automakers, dangerous product manufacturers, chemical companies, etc.  Our constitution and system of justice guarantees us all that right.  But the right to file a suit agai9nst someone – and the likelihood of winning that suit – are anything but the same thing.  In fact, they’re world apart.

Just because a person or corporation claims they were injured by another party, doesn’t equal success in court.  Defendants have their own legal and procedural rights, too.  So the mere fact that someone claims their cancer was caused by smoking, doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll prevail, at all.

Several first-line vetting questions need to be asked and investigated in tobacco injury cases.  A very small sample are:

  • Why did the person start smoking in the first place? :  Were free cigarettes distributed to the person years ago?
  • How many years was the person a smoker?
  • How much did the person smoke each day (Ex., 2 or 3 cigarettes? 2 or 3 packs?
  • What cigarette brand(s) did the person smoke?
  • Did the person ever try to stop smoking? If yes, how many times did they try?  What smoking cessation method did they use? (Ex., Nicorette gum?  Nicotine patches?  Other?)
  • What kind of cancer has been diagnosed? (The precise name of the cancer?)
  • Have the person’s doctors stated in writing that they believe the cancer was caused by tobacco or smoking?

These are just a few of the questions that must be examined, when a person first speaks with an attorney about a tobacco liability case.  Details matter, because tobacco cases are extremely difficult cases to litigate:  Tobacco liability insurers will spend millions of dollars defending a case, because they know that if they lose, it could not only cost hundreds of millions in that one case, but even higher damages in class-action cases that might follow it.  Tobacco cases belong to a category of litigation called “Product Liability” cases, or “Defective Products” cases.   If you want a good idea of just how hard tobacco companies and their liability insurers fight these cases, see the motion picture The Insider.  While dramatized for the big screen, it fairly accurately depicts how hard the tobacco companies fight these cases.

At our law firm, we’re not afraid to take on deep-pocketed defendants and large corporations.  If we were, we wouldn’t be doing what we do.  If you think that your cancer or illness was caused by smoking, call us at Ph.: (617) 285-3600, email us to:  bill@kickhamlegal.com, or send us a Contact Form.  We’d be glad to speak with you to determine if we can help.  It costs you nothing to speak with us, and if we decide to take your case, we are only paid if we obtain financial compensation on your behalf.