Federal Court Refers Tobacco Case to State Supreme Court for Clarification of Law
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in considering two remaining tobacco lawsuits, on Tuesday asked the California Supreme Court to clarify whether it would hear the case of someone diagnosed with a tobacco-related illness many years after becoming addicted to cigarettes, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The federal court is seeking to resolve a conflict that has resulted in multimillion-dollar awards to plaintiffs in state courts and dismissals in federal courts.
Plaintiffs Patricia Henley and Leslie Whiteley received multimillion-dollar awards from state courts in recent cases against tobacco companies. However, the state Supreme Court has not clarified the law on whether smokers' awareness of the addictiveness of nicotine bars individuals from suing for diseases he or she might acquire later.
Leslie Grisham, a plaintiff in one of the two cases currently before the federal court, is suffering from emphysema and other ailments. She says she was influenced to smoke at age 13 by tobacco company representatives who distributed cigarettes near her junior high school campus. In a second suit, Maria Cannata began smoking in 1960s and now has terminal lung disease.
The lawsuits of both women were previously dismissed by a federal judge in Los Angeles under the Ninth Circuit's 2002 ruling. On Tuesday, Grisham's and Cannata's respective appeals resulted in the circuit court's referral to the state Supreme Court to clarify the tobacco law.
Daniel Smith, an attorney for Grisham, said if the court agrees to take up the issue, the ruling "will be a big outcome for tobacco litigation in the Western states" (Egelko, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/30).