Judge dismisses private effort to get part of state's tobacco settlement
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) A federal judge has dismissed a class-action lawsuit by a Burlington smoker who wanted some of the money the state of Vermont is receiving from the tobacco industry.
U.S. District Court Judge J. Garvan Murtha ruled last week that the lawsuit filed by Lawrence Tyler in January was without merit.
Both state and federal law say that individuals cannot receive part of the tobacco settlement money, Murtha wrote.
''The plaintiff has no standing to challenge the state's planned use for tobacco settlement proceeds,'' said Murtha's decision, issued last Wednesday in Brattleboro.
''We are very pleased with the decision,'' Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell said Monday.
He said the decision did not prevent Tyler from suing the tobacco industry on his own.
''It underscores what we were saying. The state's suit is just for the state's costs and has no effect whatsoever on the individual rights of smokers and those who may have claims against the industry.''
Tyler, a 54-year-old former truck driver, smoked between four and five packs of cigarettes a day for 43 years. He now has emphysema and cannot work. Tyler could not be reached; there was no telephone listing for him in Burlington.
The national litigation alleged that tobacco companies made an addictive product and sold it without properly warning the public.
In 1998 Vermont and 45 other states settled lawsuits with the tobacco industry to recover money spent treating smoking-related illnesses of people on the Medicaid insurance program.
The Vermont Legislature is spending the money on ongoing health programs, smoking prevention and a savings account for future health-related costs.
Tyler and a number of other smokers filed similar suits across the country saying that money should go to smokers rather than the states.