Federal Judge Denies Suit Against Tobacco Companies

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A federal judge in Nevada has denied certification in five class-action lawsuits on behalf of smokers seeking damages from U.S. tobacco companies.

U.S. District Judge Lloyd D. George ruled late Friday that the request for class certification failed to meet the standard to proceed as a group.

George wrote in his opinion that there"are a number of factors identified by the defendants demonstrating that individual issues ... not only exist as to each member of the class, but will vary extensively as to each member.

"In short, the record developed by the defendants establishes that not only is there a probability of individualized issues in the class proposed by plaintiffs, but that those individualized issues preclude a finding of typicality."

Philip Morris said the decision could affect similar class-action requests in Nevada and elsewhere.

"The court examined the issues and agreed that the law simply does not permit smoking cases to be tried as class actions,"said William S. Ohlemeyer, Philip Morris USA vice president and associate general counsel.

In a smokers'class-action case tried for more than two years, a Florida appellate court recently overturned a plaintiffs'verdict and ordered the class be decertified because the claims failed to meet legal requirements for class-action treatment.

George's decision in the five Nevada cases"reaffirms that they cannot meet the legal criteria necessary to warrant class-action treatment,"Ohlemeyer said.

Additional cases seeking class-action status for smokers have been filed against Philip Morris. Ohlemeyer said the company expects the decision should result in the dismissal of those cases.

Martin L. Holton III, a lawyer and vice president for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., called tobacco class actions simply inappropriate"because they always involve a wide variety of individuals whose legal claims depend on each individual's unique facts and circumstances."