Los Angeles Superior Court To Hear First Tobacco Lawsuit Tried Under New Evidence Rules
A tobacco lawsuit scheduled to begin Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court could "determine if new rules of evidence in California tobacco cases can help cigarette makers halt a string of disastrous courtroom losses," the Los Angeles Times reports. In the case, Betty Bullock, a 63-year-old Newport Beach woman diagnosed with lung cancer after decades of smoking, filed suit against Philip Morris Cos. for alleged negligence, fraud and the manufacture of a defective product. Philip Morris denied the allegations (Levin, Los Angeles Times, 8/19). The California Supreme Court ruled on Aug. 5 that smokers in the state can file suit against the tobacco industry for fraud and negligence but cannot present most evidence of the industry's conduct between 1988, when the state enacted a law to protect tobacco companies from lawsuits, and 1998, when the state repealed the law. In a 6-1 decision, the court ruled that the law only protects tobacco companies from lawsuits based on the industry's conduct between 1988 and 1998. In a second 5-2 decision, the court ruled that smokers can use evidence from the 10-year immunity period only in cases where tobacco companies may have used additives to make smoking more addictive (California Healthline, 8/6).
The Bullock case marks the first tried under the new evidence rules, and "it is being closely watched by Wall Street and legal analysts as a test of the tobacco industry's ability to successfully defend itself in what is probably the country's most anti-smoking state," the Times reports. Although some analysts predict that the Aug. 5 Supreme Court decision "should be a boon" to tobacco companies, the Times reports that "it's not clear that it will make much difference." Most documents "suggesting that cigarette makers had falsely disputed the risk of smoking" -- from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s -- will "remain fair game" for plaintiffs under the new evidence rules, the Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 8/19).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.