Court Rejects Smokers' Class-Action Bid
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York appeals court late Wednesday unanimously rejected the class-action certification of a group of smokers seeking damages from major cigarette makers for illnesses allegedly caused by smoking.
The plaintiffs in the Geiger case, New York residents who all say they contracted throat and lung cancer as a result of cigarette smoking, brought the suit against the top three U.S. cigarette makers -- Philip Morris Cos. Inc., R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., part of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc., and Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., a unit of British American Tobacco Plc.
The Supreme Court of the State of New York's appellate division second judicial department rejected the bid for a class-action suit because it decided the cases had to be considered individually, according to Philip Morris, the world's top cigarette maker with the No. 1 Marlboro brand.
``Even if there are common issues in this case, those issues do not predominate,'' the appellate court said in its ruling.
``Well over a dozen courts, and every federal court to address the issue, have rejected certification of a plaintiff class of smokers suing the tobacco companies.'' Sanford C. Bernstein tobacco analyst William Pecoriello said in a report.
The court also said the plaintiffs' claims based on allegedly defective cigarette designs could not be resolved in a class-action trial because ``cigarettes are not a generic product'' and the jury would have to consider evidence regarding each type and brand of cigarette smoked by each member of the proposed class, Philip Morris said.
``With very limited exceptions, courts have rejected smoker class-action lawsuits, said Daniel Donahue, senior vice president and deputy general counsel of R.J. Reynolds, in a statement.
``This decision and many other similar rulings show that most courts recognize that a class action by smokers claiming damages for alleged injuries should not be certified,'' he added.
Brown & Williamson said the court's opinion mirrors the company's position ``that the facts involving each individual's smoking and health experiences are unique and should be handled as such, and illustrates that smoking and health lawsuits should not be treated as class actions.''