Tobacco Industry Wins Ruling in Child Ad Lawsuit
Washington, Feb. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Philip Morris USA, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and other U.S. cigarette makers were spared the possibility of billions of dollars in damages as a federal judge declined to certify a class-action lawsuit accusing them of co
The claims by under-age smokers are too diverse to be tried collectively, said U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler. Lawyers Johnnie Cochran and Michael Hausfeld, who filed the suit in May 2001, sought to certify the case as a group lawsuit on behalf of millions of young smokers.
``A damages determination as to each class member would also be a highly individualized and excessively time-consuming process,'' Kessler wrote in her ruling yesterday.
The decision shields the industry from a racketeering suit that sought billions of dollars in damages. Tobacco shares plunged in July 2000 after a Miami jury awarded $145 billion to hundreds of thousands of Florida smokers in a case that didn't raise the issue of under-age smoking. That verdict has been appealed.
Kessler ruled in a suit by three Washington teenagers who claimed the companies conspired to mislead minors about the health risks of smoking cigarettes. Cochran and Hausfeld sought to represent U.S. smokers younger than 22 who started buying cigarettes before they were 18.
The suit demanded that the companies reimburse young purchasers for what they spent on cigarettes and pay triple damages.
Individual Claims Advance
Hausfeld said he'll proceed to trial on individual claims by two named plaintiffs. If the case succeeds, Hausfeld said he'll appeal Kessler's decision to reject class certification.
``We feel that every teenager is typical of any other teenager in the motivation and decision to smoke, based on behavioral science,'' Hausfeld said, disputing Kessler's ruling that the claims aren't similar enough to be tried together.
In addition to Philip Morris, a unit of Altria Group Inc., and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, a unit of R.J. Tobacco Holdings Inc.; defendants include Loews Corp.'s Lorillard Tobacco Co., British American Tobacco Plc's Brown & Williamson Tobacco unit and Vector Group Ltd.'s Liggett Group Inc.
Kessler also has been assigned the federal government's lawsuit against the tobacco industry. That trial is set for September 2004 in Washington.
Altria shares rose 21 cents to $37.76 at 2:2 6 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange trading. R.J. Reynolds fell 21 cents to $39.70, Loews fell 54 cents to $41.38, British American Tobacco's American depositary receipts fell 16 cents to $18.42, and Vector fell 2 cents to $13.42.