Court rules $10.1 billion class action against Philip Morris may be reopened

[JURIST] A three-judge panel for the Illinois Court of Appeals for the Fifth District [official website] on Thursday unanimously decided to reopen a $10.1 billion class action against Philip Morris [corporate website] involving deceptive marketing practices in light of a favorable 2008 US Supreme Court ruling on the subject matter. The class represented in the lawsuit [Duke Law backgrounder] claims that Philip Morris violated state law when it misled consumers into thinking that "light" cigarettes were safer and contained less tar. The plaintiffs allege that the light cigarettes actually contain a more toxic form of tar than the original brand. The trial court originally found on behalf of the plaintiffs, but the Illinois Supreme Court [official website] overturned the verdict in 2005 stating that Philip Morris could not be held liable under state law due to the fact that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] allowed the use of "light" on cigarette packaging. The US Supreme Court [official website] in 2006 affirmed [opinion, PDF] the Supreme Court's ruling and the case was dismissed. However, in 2008 the US Supreme Court, in a case concerning the marketing of "light" cigarettes, ruled [opinion, PDF] that state consumer protection laws can be used to hold cigarette companies liable. A lawyer for Philip Morris calls the claims "meritless" and says that the court's ruling was based on a statute of limitations [AP report] and not the merits of the case.

Philip Morris and other cigarette companies are currently involved in numerous lawsuits. Last year, Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds [corporate website], along with an industry trade group, filed an appeal [cert. petition, PDF; JURIST report] with the US Supreme Court to overturn a $271.5 million class action settlement. The settlement was awarded [judgment, text] by the Louisiana Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit [official website] in order to establish a fund meant to help Louisianans quit smoking. In 2008, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit overturned class action certification [JURIST report] for a lawsuit brought by "light" cigarette smokers against Philip Morris and other light cigarette makers. The class action, which included anyone who has ever bought light cigarettes since they hit the market in the 1970s, had alleged that tobacco companies used deceptive advertising tactics to mislead smokers in response to growing health concerns over the risks of smoking cigarettes. In September 2006, a judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of New York certified the class of 50 million plaintiffs [JURIST report] for the class-action suit. Lawyers estimated that sales of light cigarettes brought tobacco companies between $120 billion and $200 billion in extra sales since 1971.

 

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