The tobacco industry is estimated to be worth $45.4 billion, making it one of the critical economic parts of the U.S. Over the years, there has been a continuous filing of lawsuits against tobacco companies by individuals, states, and the federal government. The first wave of lawsuits started in the 1950s when plaintiffs targeted negligent manufacturing, advertising, fraud, and violating states’ consumer protection rights.
The second wave came in the 1980-s lawsuits tobacco companies were accused of adding ingredients into tobacco products to make them addictive. The third wave, which is still with us, started in the 1990s when plaintiffs demonstrated pursuit of their health rights and the states sued on behalf of their citizens. “The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement” has revolutionized the legal world of tobacco production and selling by making companies more reliable. This article will examine the ten biggest tobacco lawsuits in U. S. history.
10. Cynthia Robinson vs. R.J Reynolds ($17 million)
In July 2014, a jury awarded the plaintiff an award of $23.6 billion after her husband died in1996 due to cancer-related problems. Cynthia is one of the plaintiffs pursuing the defendant under the Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt & Others Versus Five Major U.S Tobacco Companies case. After the Florida court announced that she could sue independently, she went after the defendant, whom she alleged was her husband’s favorite cigarette producer.
According to Time.com, her husband started smoking when he was 13, and after several attempts to stop smoking, he could make it because addiction had already caught up with him. The plaintiff majored her case on the idea that the defendant had targeted kids with excess nicotine. In addition, she heavily relied on Johnson’s medical records and his character as a churchgoer to present her arguments. When Johnson was dying, he was coughing blood; at 36, he was no more. In a twist of events, the company appealed the case, and a Florida case shrunk the award to $17 million. The case demonstrates that the company’s legal strategy to appeal the $145 (2006) billion case was by far not among the best.
9. Patricia Henley vs. Philip Morris Tobacco Company ($51.5 million)
Since the 1950s, individual smokers have taken tobacco companies to the head. This has been contributed by the fact that more cigarette consumers are more aware of their rights and the impact of the “The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement.” Though cigarette companies argue that smoking is a personal choice, they still have the responsibility of ensuring that their products have minimum impact on other human beings. In 1999, a state jury in San Francisco ordered the defendant to pay $51.5 million to the plaintiff for producing cigarettes that caused her inoperable lung condition. She had smoked the defendant’s Marlboro cigarette brand for over 35 years. The 451.5 million did not include punitive charges imposed on the company.
8. The “Eagles” vs. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco & Others ($ 100 million)
After the Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt & Others Versus Five Major U.S Tobacco companies (see in a separate part of this article), the court allowed individuals to file cases in their capacities in different parts of the country. From its ruling to 2015, the cases had accumulated up to 400. According to CNBC, The third most sued companies (R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Lorillard, and the Altria’s Philip Morris USA) agreed to pay a total of $100 million to settle the cases.
According to their lead lawyers, Philip Morris and R.J Reynolds agreed to pay each $42.5 million while Lorillard was to pay $15 million. The cases were commonly referred to as the “Eagle Case” due to their flying nature”-you would hear that one has been filed in Florida, and at the same time, another one pops up in California.
7. Bryan Rintoul vs. R.J. Reynolds & Philip Morris ($157 million)
In one of the cases which got very high media attention, a jury sitting in Florida, in November 2019, awarded $157 million to the plaintiff for the wrongful death of his gay partner caused by the defendant’s actions. Besides being diagnosed with a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 1996, which would kill him 22 years later, the plaintiff’s partner (Edward Caprio) started to smoke cigarettes from the two companies when he was 156 years old.
The jury established that the two companies manipulated the nicotine levels in the cigarettes and marked them as adolescents, which was against the law. The media drew attention to the case because the couple was gay and affirmed their rightful place in American society. According to Florida law, a surviving couple can only sue for wrongful death if the illness starts after marriage. However, their counsel relied on 2015’s2015’s Supreme Court judgment which made same-sex marriage legal across the country, to win the case, for they had married in 2015.
6. Mississippi vs. the Tobacco Companies ($3.4 billion)
In May 1994, Mississippi was the first state to sue tobacco companies and collectively win a case over it. The suit filed by Democratic Attorney General of the state, Michael Moore, succeeded despite the fierce criticism from a more significant section of the state’s Republican leaders. The suit targeted four companies Philip Morris CO., Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., The Lorillard Co., and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. However, before the start of the proceedings against the Companies on July 9 same year, both parties, four days earlier, announced that they had entered a deal valued at $3.4 billion payable for the next 25 years effective from the date of depositing the agreement.
The monies were to be used in anti-smoking programs, and the companies were warned against refraining from targeting underage children. Legal analysts’ opinion that the companies were afraid of public humiliation through the evidence which was to be presented against them. The case would serve as the basis on which the subsequent lawsuits filed by Texas and Florida would succeed. Just after its success, it saw 36 other states file similar lawsuits.
5. Philip Morris Tobacco Company vs. ABC News ($10 billion)
Not all the times that the tobacco companies have been on the wrong Time. Sometimes they are wrongfully accused, as in Philip Morris Co.’s case in 1994. The company went to court to defend the allegations by ABC News that it had ‘spiked’ its cigarettes by adding more nicotine. Through its “Day One” program, ABC had run two broadcasts on February 28 and March 7 of the same year, making the allegations. In the suit, the company named John Martin, a correspondent, and Walt Bogdanich, a producer, as correspondents.
According to the A.P. News, the media house agreed to pay $10 billion to settle the matter out of court. The company vehemently denied that its three brands, Benson & hedges, Marlboro, and Virginia Slims, only contained the required amount of nicotine. In addition to the money, ABC agreed to run an apology during prime hours, stating that they inappropriately reported the nicotine contents of the cigars produced by the plaintiff.
4. Florida vs. Tobacco Companies ($11.3 billion)
On August 25, 197, Lawyers for both parties in the case mentioned above announced that they had agreed that the targeted tobacco companies would pay the state a total amount of $11.3 billion. In addition to the payment, the cigarette companies promised to undertake public severe health activities to educate the public on the consumption of their products.
Among the activities they undertook were to remove cigarette advertising boards near schools, remove all vending machines placed at places where children can get them, pump money into anti-smoking campaigns, and stop advertising the use of cigarettes during kids-sporting activities. The case was a follow state-win after the Mississippi state won a case against the tobacco companies. In their fillings, the attorneys representing the state had demonstrated how the companies participated in a conspiracy to misguide the public about the risks involved in smoking. When Florida won the case, there were pending proposals before congress on how to regulate the tobacco industry.
3. Texas vs. Big Tobacco Companies ($15 billion)
On January 15, 1998, representatives of the sued leading tobacco companies. This includes those of the Texas state. They announced that they had entered a deal to settle a lawsuit that the government of the plaintiff brought. Texas sued the companies. It claimed there was compensation for treating sick smokers for more than 25 years. The Texas Attorney General had filed the case in April of 1997. In his press statement, the A.G. stated that they had decided to Make Big Tobacco change how it does business. It wanted to make them manufacture less dangerous cigarettes, and stop marketing cigarettes to teenagers.
In the proceedings, the state’s lawyers produced internal documents about tobacco companies. This shows they added many ingredients to their cigarettes. They knowingly targeted teenage smokers, and took deliberate steps to hide the fraudulent marketing. The settlement was applauded by the then U.S. president, Clinton, who used the opportunity and urged congress to pass stringent laws to control malpractices by tobacco companies. The state announced that the monies would be used to revamp the state’s medical program and educate teenagers on how not to misuse cigarettes.
2. Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt & Others vs. Five Major U.S Tobacco Companies ($145 billion)
In 1991, a couple (Stanley and Susan Rosenblatt) led other 60,000 nonsmoking flight attendants and other workers. They claim they suffered cancer and other diseases from breathing smoke in airplane cabins. According to the PMC PubMed Central, the court heard 157 witnesses on the matter. The majority of them were from Florida. Frank Amodeo is a former woodworker, aged 61 years who had throat cancer. His larynx is destroyed by radiotherapy. He gave the most compelling evidence by demonstrating how the cigarettes sold by companies had far-reaching implications.
A unanimous six jury members gave the ruling. At that time, it was the most extraordinary award a court gave cigarette plaintiffs. Apart from the large award given, the case played a significant role. It’s a central reference point in the 1998 case brought by all 46 states against the tobacco industry. However, the Florida Supreme Court overturned the award. The plaintiffs had too many individual issues that could not be persuaded as a group. In addition, the court allowed them to proceed and file individual cases. They later settled under the “Eagles” Versus R.J. Reynolds Tobacco & Others (see in a separate part of this article)
1. 46 U.S. states, District of Columbia $ Other Five U.S. Territories vs. the Tobacco Companies ($206 billion)
In 1998 all attorneys of the 46 U.S. states and their other parties sued the American Tobacco Companies. The companies opted for an out-of-court settlement where they were to pay $206 billion. This is compensation for taxpayers’ money spent on the containment of tobacco-related ailments. Also for the loss of local economies. The agreement that came to be referred to as “The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement”. It majorly targeted the Philip Morris, R.J Reynolds, Brown $ Williamson, and Lorillard companies. It also targets their other trade associates.
According to Truth Initiative, the agreement also came with some new restrictions, which included but were not limited to the creation of new limits as far as advertising, marketing, and promotion of cigarettes was concerned, made prohibition of advertising of cigarettes to persons under 18 years, elimination of cartoons in cigarette advertising, abolishment of any form of outdoor advertisement of cigarettes and the companies were required to come up with steps that would make their internal documents more accessible to the public.