TOBACCO: Supreme Court to Review 1998 Tobacco Law
California's Supreme Court unanimously agreed Wednesday to review whether a state tobacco law that allows individuals to sue tobacco companies applies to smoking-related illnesses diagnosed before the law took effect in January 1998, the San Francisco Examiner reports. The court will review a San Francisco appellate court ruling dismissing suits filed by two men, Albert Pavolini and Edwin Brigham, who were diagnosed with lung cancer in 1996 and 1997. The men, now deceased, filed suit a few days after the tobacco law took effect; their estates have taken over the suits. Superior Court Judge David Garcia had dismissed both suits, saying the cases were "governed by the state law in effect from 1988 through 1997, which barred claims by individual smokers against tobacco companies for making dangerous products." Subsequently, the 1st District Court of Appeals upheld Garcia's decision. While attorneys for both estates referenced language in the new tobacco law that says it applies "to all cases pending at the start of 1998," the appeals court responded that the 1998 law was a "drastic change that was not intended to apply retroactively." But Harry Wartnick, attorney for Brigham's estate, is arguing that the 1998 law was "intended to preserve all post-January 1998 suits." A tobacco company lawyer indicated that "the same issue had arisen in suits by more than 50 smokers or their estates." The "scope" of the 1998 tobacco law also is under consideration in appeals by tobacco companies facing two " large damage awards" by San Francisco juries, in which two women were diagnosed with cancer after the law was enacted. The tobacco companies contend that the women's suits should be "barred" because they were based on cigarette sales and advertising that occurred prior to 1998. This issue will not be directly presented to the state Supreme Court during its review, but may be affected by the ruling (Egelko, San Francisco Examiner, 10/19).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.