CA Supreme Court Confirms Right to Sue Tobacco Companies
SAN FRANCISCO, CA -- August 16, 2002 -- In two long-awaited opinions, the California Supreme Court confirmed the rights of all Californians injured by tobacco products to bring civil lawsuits for money damages. Claims that tobacco was altered by additives to make it more addictive may be presented regardless of the date of a tobacco company's actions, the Court decided in Naegele v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company et al. (No. S090420, August 5, 2002). Such conduct exposes smokers to dangers beyond those commonly associated with smoking.
Tobacco companies are only shielded from other types of claims if they are based on conduct within a 10-year statutory immunity period extending from 1988 until 1998 (Myers v. Philip Morris Companies, Inc. et al., No. S095213, August 5, 2002). Smokers may sue the companies based on evidence of wrongdoing outside the statutory period, paving the way for 65 anti-tobacco lawsuits now pending in the state.
Former Tobacco Immunity Clause Was Repealed
In 1988, a former version of California Civil Code Sec. 1714.45, which was repealed in 1998, provided immunity from lawsuits for the tobacco industry. It barred claims against tobacco and certain other products whose risks were supposedly well-known. Tobacco companies had argued that all prior tobacco claims filed before January 1998 were barred as a result of the tobacco immunity provision.
The California Supreme Court rejected the argument that the 1988 immunity clause was retroactive and protected tobacco companies from claims arising from their pre-1988 conduct. However, it held that evidence based on tobacco company actions during the 10-year statutory period from 1988 through 1997 could not be admitted.
"The ten years of industry conduct that is excluded from liability is legally insignificant because this industry has been playing fast and loose with the truth for half a century," commented Mark Gottlieb, an attorney with the Tobacco Products Liability Project. "This ten year conduct exemption will provide very little protection for the tobacco industry in California."