Combined Tobacco Suits Sought
NEW YORK (AP) - Lawyers for plaintiffs in 10 lawsuits against Big Tobacco have asked a federal judge to consolidate all punitive damage cases into a nationwide class-action suit.
Judge Jack B. Weinstein ordered both sides to appear for a hearing on Monday.
The 10 suits, all pending before Weinstein, include class-action cases brought by smokers as well as by union health funds and insurers that paid smokers' medical costs. None of the cases have yet gone to trial.
The plaintiffs asked Weinstein to order a joint trial to weigh punitive damages against the tobacco companies for their alleged ``decades-long conspiracy.''
Under the proposal, any punitive damages awarded would be placed in a fund to be used for ``the greatest possible public benefit,'' such as medical and scientific research. Trials for compensatory damages for individuals could go forward separately.
William S. Ohlemeyer, associate general counsel of industry-leading cigarette maker Philip Morris, said the plaintiffs' move was an ``inappropriate attempt to combine invalid claims that have been rejected time and again by federal appellate courts.''
Mark Smith, a spokesman for Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co., said his company had no intention of settling the lawsuits and ``we are not discussing settlement with plaintiffs' attorneys or anyone else.''
In April, Weinstein urged lawyers for both sides to sketch out a framework for a global settlement designed to end all major tobacco litigation in the country. Cigarette makers declined to participate in talks.
This summer, a Florida state jury issued a $145 billion award to members of a class action suit brought on behalf of all Florida residents who were made sick by smoking. Tobacco companies have appealed that verdict.