Unanimous California Supreme Court Decision Allows Previously Time-Barred Tobacco Related Lawsuits to be Filed
Sacramento, CA -- February 20, 2007 -- The California Supreme Court handed down a unanimous opinion today in the case of Grisham v. Philip Morris which will allow those injured by cigarettes to once again file individual lawsuits. The opinion dismisses the erroneous idea that under California law, the 2-year statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim against tobacco companies starts when the cigarette user first becomes aware of their addiction to cigarettes. Usually, addiction to the nicotine in cigarettes begins within weeks of when a person starts using cigarettes, yet most diseases caused by cigarettes are not diagnosed until decades after the victim has become addicted.
Grisham, a case currently pending before the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, involves a woman who started using cigarettes as a teenager in the early 1960s. In March 2000, she was diagnosed with emphysema and in April of 2001 she was diagnosed with chronic periodontitis and gingivitis. Ms. Grisham filed her lawsuit within a year of her diagnosis for these diseases.
The California Supreme Court accepted certified questions from the federal Ninth Circuit in order to clarify California law. In a prior case, Soliman v. Philip Morris Inc., 311 F.3d 966, (2002), the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that the California statute of limitations for physical injury began to run when the cigarette user realized or should have realized that they were addicted to cigarettes. In the unanimous opinion in Grisham, Justice Carlos R. Moreno stated, "We reject the proposition advanced by defendants, based on Soliman v. Philip Morris, Inc (9th Cir. 202) 311 F.3d 966 (Soliman), that the statute of limitations should have commenced on the physical injury claims as soon as Grisham discovered or should have discovered she was addicted to cigarettes."
The California Supreme Court decision in Grisham will directly effect the viability of all current and future cigarette cases in California. The decision will allow cases to be filed after cancer or other diseases related to cigarettes manifest, even though these diseases invariably take decades to develop after the person becomes addicted. "... [C]ontrary to many analysts proclamations, the time is ripe for a major resurgence in individual cigarette cases. State supreme court rulings in Massachusetts, Florida, and now California have transformed the litigation landscape," stated Mark Gottlieb, Director of the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University School of Law. (Press Release, February 15, 2007.)